I don’t know that I would have wanted to take AP English if it hadn’t been a graduation requirement, but retrospectively I’m so glad it was. Considering myself as a STEM student who never really had any profound appreciation for English, I expected to trudge my way through the course. Instead, I took away from this class impactful life lessons that expand far beyond the scope of reading Shakespeare.
Initially, one of my main problems with English, which I found particularly bothersome being a Math/Science person who enjoys factual objective truths, was the inescapable nature of subjectivity. Thus, reading Tompkins for me was a perfectly fitting way to start off the course with having her acknowledge my frustration and her emphasis on looking at the positives of this situation with the heightened importance of our role in trying to arrive at a truth and make sense of the subjectivity. Wallace taught me to appreciate subjectivity in particular contexts and that it is ok to not follow arbitrary rules and be different even if society will frown upon it and judge you because of it. I shouldn’t shrink in fear of grammar nazis (or SNOOTs) who empathetically argue for language to follow a constrained form or anyone who demands adherence to rules without adequate support or reason in general. Foucault then proceeded to convinced me of how restrictive and pervasive these mind conforming ideologies really are in society through his discussion of the Panopticon. The inclusion of analyzing student-grading samples functioned to further expand on this idea and shed light on the arbitrary nature of standards and standardization in society that I once considered to be fully legitimate and accepted as concrete facts without ever questioning it.
So what? (This rebellious teenager question response has permanently been embedded in my thinking thanks to MWA and has continued to follow me into AP ELC) What’s the significance of knowing that what everyone says isn’t necessarily true? Well, that question was answered by MAUS on several different levels. MAUS explores the untraditional textual medium of graphics to convey a story, a form of storytelling that many societal ‘SNOOTs’ would frown upon and dismiss the value of (McCloud’s Understanding Comics was particularly important in this regard). Additionally, in seeing the cruel, irrational and conformists nature of the Nazis and the genocide they committed, I realized how incredibly important it was to avoid this ever happening again by seeing the value in antifoundationalism and always being skeptical in my beliefs and to not simply adopt the perspective of my country or society without first evaluating it myself so as to not fall into the trap of blindly following societal leaders arguing for unjustified hate and war.
Talk and ideas are great and all, but practically how do we combat this notion of lack of independent critical thinking aside from first being aware of the problem? The unit on Foundations of Rhetoric (specifically Aristotle, Cicero, Montaigne, Swift, Shakespeare’s Richard III) taught me not only how to construct convincing arguments using various rhetorical techniques of considering the audience and subject matter, but also how to consciously identify when others employ these techniques in making their arguments persuasive. In this way, we are less susceptible to and are able to look past surface level persuasive rhetoric to arrive at the heart of the ideology being contested and make judgements from there.
Last but not least, this course also helped me become a more empathetic individual overall and recognize the power of language and literature to promote this end. MAUS made me understand the Jewish plight of World War II to a degree that no history textbook or documentary could ever explain to me and so did Persepolis similarly with the history of unrest between Iran and Iraq with the path of death and destruction it created in its wake.