Formalism and Fun: On Experiencing Text and Time in the Classroom (Panel)


Pedagogy & Professional

Shun Kiang (University of Central Oklahoma)

Time is of the essence, and academia has responded accordingly. From measuring objectives and outcomes to the shortening of course sequences, and from the promotion of multimodality and multitasking to the emphasis on testing over slower, process-oriented modes of meaning-making, what we do in the classroom has become rushed and fraught, especially in areas such as literature, where teachers and students struggle to keep up, feeling the pressure to deliver and demonstrate knowledge efficiently in homogenous, empty time. Keep up or fail: a false dilemma (a logical fallacy) now normalized, forcing itself upon us. In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016), however, Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber caution against (de)forming habits of teaching and learning to meet the demands of the corporatized university. To combat the mechanization of routines and rubrics, and the call for time management, Berg and Seeber ask that we better attend to moments of deep immersion “[i]n order to think critically and creatively,” and embrace a kind of “[c]reativity [that] involves and even demands playfulness.” Taking a cue from Berg and Seeber, who champion the slow pleasures of teaching and learning, this roundtable will examine and explore techniques of formalism that aim to flush out the fullness of text—as words and passages to read and close read, as sounds to produce and listen to, as narratives embodying/enveloping temporalities and worlds, as shared objects bringing together individuals and communities, etc. Or, as what Caroline Levine in Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (2015) calls the “affordances” of text, the different uses and effects of a work of literature that can be experienced in the classroom. “Formalist ways of reading,” Levine argues, 1) “take account of the temporal patterns of art and life,” which the culture of institutionalization represses, and 2) make necessary the seminar-style of teaching and learning—slow in speed and small in size—a potentially radical space “capable of crossing disciplinary boundaries, encouraging critique and innovation, and prompting deliberately open-ended discussion” Among other things, this roundtable, analytical and anecdotal, wants to take up various aspects of formalism, and the affective, lived dimensions of the classroom, to ask what time—e.g., how we spend it—has to do with education, and what slow pedagogy can do to carve out learning spaces within the corporatized university for fun and play.
Time is of the essence, and academia has responded accordingly. From measuring objectives and outcomes to the shortening of course sequences, and from the promotion of multimodality and multitasking to the emphasis on standardized testing over slower, process-oriented modes of meaning-making, what we do in the classroom has become rushed and fraught, especially in areas such as literature. Inspired by The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016), this roundtable, analytical and anecdotal, will take up formalism as an example of slow pedagogy, and the affective, lived dimensions of the classroom, to ask what time—e.g., how we spend it—has to do with education, and what slow pedagogy can do to carve out learning spaces within the corporatized university for fun and play.