I found the chapters of Blau’s “The Literature Workshop” intriguing. The transcripts of workshops were of particular interest, because they immediately brought to mind my own experiences in similar literature classes both from undergraduate and here at GMU. As with any written piece, it is helpful to try and analyze as a group, because there will be dissenting opinions and other people who can add their pre-existing knowledge to that conversation to shed light on a subject that is perhaps needed to fully understand the text, as in “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”. And while he acknowledges that there will be times students simply claim they “don’t get it”, this is a failure not of their reading ability but of their ability to analyze the way they think about reading. As has been discussed by so many of the things we’ve read in class, difficulty is seen as a roadblock, a dead-end instead of an opportunity to learn and overcome.
But what of the willful refusal of students to even read something that challenges their way of thinking? I’m referring of course, to the example that Arlene Wilner gives at the beginning of her article: “The most troubling and disorienting moment came when most of the
male students in one of my sections refused to read, let alone write about, an assigned short story that charts the emotional growth of its homosexual protagonist.” (173) This seems like the kind of problem more likely to be encountered in a high school classroom than at a college level, but that may just be my naivete showing. I’m curious how Blau would handle that kind of disruptive incident in one of his “literature workshops”. While I find his method helpful for promoting and finding/making meaning, it is less useful when there is a simple refusal on the part of one or a group of students to even participate.
On a certain level, a workshop style class can allow some students to get by without ever really participating in the thinking process; to “coast” by mimicking what other students have said, or adding their voice to a discussion that’s already in progress without making up their own minds about why they agree/disagree or how they reached that conclusion. I have been in classrooms with students like this, and I’ve had friends who made it through most of their academic careers this way. They never really gained the cognitive skills they needed, but still managed to pass their classes and get good grades. At some point, I have to ask the question: whose failure is it? The student’s for trying to get by with the least amount of effort possible, or the teacher’s for allowing them to get by without being challenged?