In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Gloria Anzaldúa declares, “I will have my voice ... I will overcome the tradition of silence.” Though Anzaldúa was writing predominantly in response to the conflicts of language and identity, her message still speaks to the overarching efforts upon which I have consistently modeled my teaching: the necessity of crafting one’s individual voice as the gateway to more active participation in the social and cultural conversations that now define our modern world. For the past several years as an educator at the college level, I have focused my teaching on the process of honing the critical and creative voice. By developing their unique and individual perspectives through oral and written expression, students can effectively engage the real-world issues that they face each day. In my role as an instructor of literature and culture, I strive to facilitate and guide those efforts, offering new frameworks for analytical exploration and interconnections between those ideas and texts so that students, in the spirit of Alice Walker, do not die with their voices stifled within them.
Simultaneously, I model my teaching around the notion of access—access to the social, cultural, and historical contexts that shape a rich twentieth-century literary history; access to the formal and linguistic factors shaping the meaning of a literary text; access to the complex approaches to critical and analytical writing; and access to real world applications of a field with far-reaching and untapped potentialities. Providing students with the skills and the language to not only recognize but respond to the underlying cultural statements of a literary text, I aim to engage my students of different backgrounds and learning styles in a comprehensive
study of literature that challenges what Chimamanda Adichie identifies as “the single story.” With an emphasis on texts that expand our understandings of the human condition and that deconstruct that dominant narrative at work not just within the borders of the United States, we can become stronger and more active citizens; we can use our love of language and ideas to better understand and interact with the surrounding world.
For instance, in an Honors Seminar on global civil rights literature that I developed for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I challenged my students to evaluate the social and political critique in texts that confront a history of racial discrimination as well as violence, restrictive gender norms, and human rights violations in the midst of political crisis. In challenging students to interrogate how literature can effectively deconstruct the single story of a particular people or race, we incorporated a more inclusive canon that attempted to reflect the overall diversity of this world as well as the emerging conversations within minority communities worldwide. Here we read a variety of texts from James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie to Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood to George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, engaging in post-colonial and ethnic studies, all aimed at expanding the mind and opening up a wider forum for once silenced cultural conversations. Thus, I attempt to provide students an equally inclusive notion of access to the conversations surrounding the many prominent socio-cultural issues that affect our world.
In essence, for the time we share in my class, students are called to evaluate the role of literature in shaping as well as reshaping how we perceive the surrounding world, all the while creating an archive of their critical work as an access point for the larger conversations they will undoubtedly encounter as they move beyond my classroom. Thus, my role as an educator and as a mentor in this process is to challenge the single story my students have been exposed to and to help facilitate better access, providing the tools and the theoretical approach needed to navigate the sometimes complex and demanding fields of English and language arts. This tradition has continued throughout my career as I encourage my students daily to reach new heights of academic and intellectual success through my work across campus. In the end, with an open door and a desire to always help, I work each day to help mold a generation of students unafraid to challenge that tradition of silence, eager to add their own unique voices and their own unique thoughts to the conversations of identity and culture that ultimately shape who they are and who they can become. In doing so, I believe that I can share my gifts with the world, as a high school English teacher once challenged me to do, while also encouraging my own students to do the same.
For more information about the courses that Dr. Varlack has taught, see his CV under "About."