Approaching Difficult Texts as Students and Educators

On the first day of the conference, I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the “Difficult Texts” panel with Anthony Alessandrini and Libby Garland, professors at Kingsborough Community College, Karen Miller, coming from LaGuardia Community College, and Andrea Morell, who teaches at the Urban Studies program at Guttmann Community College. From one aspect, I learned how important it becomes to engage community college students with the same texts the professor is struggling to understand. In engaging them in these texts and conversations, the professor is inviting them into his or her own research, also personalizing their class experience more. Professor Miller, whose own research is set in frontier capitalism, covers books such as Empire of Cotton with her students and they walk through it together as a class. Furthermore, Professor Alessandrini spoke of how he likes to pair theoretically layered, and yet very important, texts such as Black Skin White Masks with somewhat slightly easier and more concrete yet still very informational books such as Tropical Freedom or The New Jim Crow.

All these, as an undergraduate student, maybe especially as an undergraduate student, I think were very vital to hear. As someone who loves to read and attempts to tackle difficult texts both inside and outside the classroom, it can be very disheartening when you take away very little. My first mistake is looking at these texts in isolation, and the same goes for professors who throw at us these complex decontextualized snippets without really walking us through them. This panel really taught me how important it is to engage with what I am reading, whether it be for class or not, and to link it to other texts. I guess my next step is to figure out how I can do this in a more collaborative approach rather than an individualistic one, and I guess that is something I need to talk about with my professors and classmates and maybe in those conversations solutions can start to emerge alongside the solutions that were presented in the panel.

There was something else said at the panel that I wanted to repeat because I believe all students should hear it as I needed to hear it. Professor Alessandrini mentioned how texts can become very layered and complex because the nature of what they are studying is inherently layered and complex. Scholars themselves still grapple with these texts, and Fanon himself admitted there were some lines in his book that he himself struggled to understand. So, I just wanted to emphasize, to myself and to others, although we should try to take away as much as we can from a text, we should never measure our potential as students of knowledge by how much we understand or do not understand.

 

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