Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Greece and Greek America in the U.S. College Classroom

The classroom, as a site where knowledge is produced and subjectivities are mediated, is a vital contact zone for scholars of modern Greek and young people. We must, therefore, continue reflecting on the various practices that constitute it.

The forces bringing students to our classes are diverse. The discourse of multiculturalism produces a new generation of hyphenated Greeks, a population of prospective civic leaders, opinion makers, and cultural gatekeepers. Often savvy in crossing cultural borders, biculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and curiosity about Greek worlds beyond immediate family and community, this youth turns to our courses to explore heritage and identity, among other interests.

Non-heritage students arrive to our classrooms too. The traditional value that U.S. education places on cultural diversity is currently enhanced by the imperative, it seems, for international experience, hence the importance of study abroad programs. What is more, in an unanticipated development, university restructuring and budget cuts may also contribute to our enrollments.

The ethnic composition of this student body is diverse, varying regionally. In addition to the traditional core of our “European American” student base, African Americans, Asian American, and Latino students increasingly take courses on Greek and Greek American topics, particularly in densely multiethnic States; the example of California comes to mind.

Class differences, often vast, punctuate this landscape.

Engaging these populations poses urgent questions. What material do we address in the classroom and study abroad programs, how, and to what end? What do we know about our students, and the issues they confront? How do we frame Greece and Greek-related issues to this diverse student body? How do we translate the Greek American past and present to heritage and non-heritage students? How do we present Greek America to students connected with historically stigmatized groups? How do we empower Greek American students while avoiding ethnic celebrationism? How do we engage with the assumptions they bring to the classroom?

In other words, what kinds of research and pedagogies are needed for our purposes?

These are gravely underexplored topics. U.S. modern Greek studies has invested enormously to distinguish itself in the fiercely competitive U.S. academy, but has paid little or no attention to classroom practices, particularly regarding the courses we teach in English. Cultivating the next research frontier–educational pedagogies–presents a formidable challenge, one which may require strategic thinking on how to most effectively deliver it, given that faculty has commonly produced the kinds of publications conventionally expected by research universities.

How to stir the talents of modern Greek studies scholars toward a reflection on teaching, a vocation that consumes many of us daily, a practice that is so immediate, yet for various reasons turned so distant as a research prospect?

How to best capture the imagination, generate political and cultural interventions, and overall make a difference in the lives of a new generation of Greek and “non-Greek” youth?

Promisingly, teaching-oriented research initiatives are currently at work within modern Greek studies, heightening the anticipation for published work. Publications, reflection, and commentary on our educational practices are long overdue.

I will be investing in this blog forum to contribute to the unfolding discussion.

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