Post-Pracitcum Reflection: Teaching Sensitive Topics

As I think back on my femme-fatale themed Intro to Fiction and Writing course, I realize now that I touched on several possibly traumatic topics:  Homosexuality (x2–Lady Audley’s Secret and Carmilla), Suicide (x2 in Double Indemnity), Rape (Gone Girl…and intended rape in a version of LRRH), Bigamy (Lady Audley’s Secret), and Incest (discussed in relation to Circe Lannister in Game of Thrones, who was a favorite choice for character analysis of a femme fatale at the beginning of the semester).  Perhaps because I was so matter-of-fact about our discussion of these topics (or perhaps “oblivious” would be a better adjective), no issues arose in our class discussions.  Or perhaps I got lucky that my two classes handled these topics so well.  But now that I am aware of the possible consequences of these topics, I wonder if I’ll be able to discuss them as I did before or if I will be (overly) cautious and hesitant, possibly causing my students more discomfort in response to my discomfort.  I *loved* teaching this class and the students responded so well that I hate to now be hesitant to approach these texts again.  Maybe ignorance, in this case, was bliss.


3 thoughts on “Post-Pracitcum Reflection: Teaching Sensitive Topics

  1. I’ve actually been thinking about this too. I’ve been wondering if there may be a difference between teaching material that contains controversial issues and teaching controversial issues? When you prepared you femme-fatale course, for example, I’m sure you were looking to select texts that feature a femme-fatale in a significant way, yes? The controversies you mentioned above likely played no role in your decision to choose or not choose certain text. In all likelihood you may not have even noticed them. I think this can be said about a majority of our courses. And since we teach to the focus of the class we may not even be pausing to look at some of those controversial issues. I feel like this is quite different than intentionally selecting controversial material to teach precisely because it’s controversial (which I do with my dystopic class). How I teach and what I may focus on in a fairy tale class is going to be significantly different than the dystopic class. While I still believe it’s a good idea to have a general blurb in your syllabus about controversial material, having now thought about it, I don’t know if teaching material that contains controversial material necessitates anything beyond that general blurb. Whereas, teaching a course that specifically seeks to focus on controversial issues, I think does. Thoughts?

    • I think this is a good way to think about it! You are right, these controversial or possibly “trigger” issues were discussed in relation to the text and the figure of the femme fatale. These topics were not a point of discussion in and of themselves. Maybe that’s why I didn’t think to warn my students of them whereas I was concerned with them being offended by the graphic language. I think I also approached it as “None of these topics are discussed in a method any more extreme than would be shown in prime time cable television,” which is why some of the language which wouldn’t appear on cable t.v. stood out to me as being possibly offensive. When I do reteach this course (and I totally intend to do so), I will include a more specific warning blurb in my syllabus than I did the first time around, but I don’t think I will change my approach or discussion of these topics. With the exception of the homosexuality, none of these topics received anywhere close to even 1 full class-period’s discussion.

      This definitely helps put our practicum discussion in perspective. I was left wondering if I had been completely insensitive in my first Literature and Writing course.

  2. Pingback: Happy Never After by Saint Hoax: Disney & Domestic Abuse | shandi lynne wagner

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