DOI link for Sublime Understanding
Sublime Understanding book
When I taught high school social studies, my classes read one novel each grading period. As I was handing out books one spring quarter, a student raised his hand and asked, “Does someone die at the end of this one?” I cringed. In my hands were twenty copies of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which ends with bounty hunters shooting an infant. I suddenly realized what my students had already figured out: that I assigned edgy, dark material as a signal of authenticity, a way to distinguish myself from stodgy older colleagues—that I equated good teaching with the ability to shock students out of their complacency and impart the gravity of difficult histories. In short, that I wanted my students not only to understand course material, but to feel it, and believed that scenes of tragedy and suffering would elicit that feeling. Those assumptions were not necessarily wrong, but in hindsight I think they needed a more nuanced consideration than I had given them. Underlying my student’s question were important issues about the role of emotional sensation in the history classroom.