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Dean Rader on Post-Truth Teaching

Dean Rader (English) kindly shares his November 19th article in the Huffington Post, "Post-Truth Teaching." We asked him for his thoughts about teaching in what feels to many of us like a new, [insert adjective of your choice] era.

Post-Truth Teaching
by Dean Rader

Dean Rader on Teaching Now and in a New Era

January 30, 2017

The week before the November 8 Presidential election, I required my students to read a series of political poems, which we talked about in class. Their assignment was to write their own political poem, which they turned in the morning of the election itself. Many of the students voted that day for the first time. For me, it was one of the most interesting moments in a while because the aims of the world and the aims our class were coalescing.

The class itself was a brand new course—a poetry writing class for non-English majors—which I was teaching for the first time. Most of the students were not going to go on to be professional poets, yet I wanted them to see the impact of poetry in people's lives. You don’t have to be a poet to move someone with a poem. You don't have to write poetry to have an audience.

On the Tuesday after the election, I began class by pulling down the big screen at the front of the classroom and projecting my Twitter feed to the class. Almost every other tweet was someone posting a poem. In a time of extremis, in a time of crisis, people turned to poetry. There was poem after poem after poem—often with a line like, “This poem by Maggie Smith is the only thing getting me through the day.”

I ask myself now, will the results of the election and subsequent executive orders change my teaching? What is the importance, the overlap between writing poetry and teaching students in a new era? In my first semester at USF, 9-11 happened. As a result, I changed not only what I taught but how I taught. I think this semester I'm going to ask students to think about poetry's global role, to consider poetry as an act of resistance and as an act of liberation. Also, I want students to consider how poetry can look outward. Often we think of poetry as inward-facing, but it can also be mechanism to look outward. Yes, I think I'm going to teach more social and political poems. And maybe even require students to write more of them as well.