This week, I returned once again to a piece I wrote in this webspace, using it once again as a teaching exercise in my classes. Once again, I was struck by students' reactions to it. (I suppose some context would be helpful. I am teaching two sections of first-year composition, as part of which I am having students carry out a textual analysis. The piece was offered to students as an example to work through as a whole-class exercise. And I do not tell students that I wrote the piece until after the work with it is done, even if some guess or reason out that the work is mine.) It was not that students engaged with the piece--I always hope to see that happen--but the ways in which they did that surprised me.
For one thing, few of the students in the classes I had read the piece had played the game which it discusses. This has been the first time I have had that result; even last term, when I presented the piece (to much less student delight, I might add), most of the students in the classes were familiar with the game. Most of them this time around were not. I suppose that I am beginning to be dated in my references (again), showing my age both in the specific selection and in the fact that when I think of video games I think of the major Nintendo franchises: Mario, Metroid, and Zelda. And I suppose that I shall have to get accustomed to the shock of being made to feel old; there is certainly white enough in my beard anymore...
For another, one of the classes fixated on the goggles worn by the characters on which the piece focuses. The argument that the selective hiding of the characters' faces indicates racist tendencies in the game, and therefore presumably of its programmers and/or its expected players, got lost in what seemed to the students to be the ludicrous inclusion of comments about eyewear. Indeed, in that class, discussion quickly turned to issues of standard safety equipment--which could be productive, were it better directed. The students seemed to lose track of the central thread of discussion, however, despite my trying to pull them back to it--with few exceptions. I suppose I have to read it as the blindness of most of the class--overwhelmingly white and fairly privileged--to systemic racism, the idea that racism has to be overt to exist. Whether or not I should work to correct it in the class--or can--is unclear to me; I fear to overstep my bounds in such a way, particularly given where and among whom I am.
For yet another, the other class revealed to me its relatively low reading level in its response to the piece. Questions about vocabulary were abundant, as they have not often been. (Even at the technical college where I worked when I first wrote the piece, filled with non-native speakers and those who had stopped their earlier educations far short of completing high school, I did not have quite so many.) Their reactions did not bespeak as deep an understanding of the material as did those of the other class, and while they did not go off on goggles, they seemed to accept uncritically the assertions made by the piece. It is not any better to do so than to get sidetracked in discussion. I suppose that I will have to work with them to promote more skeptical readings--and that, I know I am supposed to do.