One of the recurring themes in PGS is the deconstruction and examination of traditional academic models. Dr. Heilker’s module, for example, explored alternate interpretations of the essay. Essaying, he told us, should be an act of reflection and discovery – a concept that threw many of my classmates for a loop.
There is far more to the essay than five standardized paragraphs detailing diction, syntax, and figurative language. I am lucky enough to have figured this out long ago, thanks to a writing mentor with an interest in creative nonfiction who always encouraged me to experiment with the form. But because most students are only taught the standard AP model, they miss out on the fascinating ways in which an author can play with structure to suit their interests and needs.
The surprise of my fellow students broke my heart, but our situations were quickly reversed upon the group’s arrival in Athens. With one or two exceptions, I have had consistently miserable experiences in history classes. Names and dates were presented in a vacuum, and a great deal of gritty, fascinating detail was expunged from our lessons because it wasn’t relevant to testing. A week packed full of history and archaeology was as unfamiliar (and, I will confess, vaguely unsettling) to me as essay-writing was to many of my peers.
Our time in Greece repaired much of that damage. Ancient propaganda in the form of carved smiles, mutilated boundary markers as a blow to morale, hubris-filled architecture inciting civil war – these are elements of history I will remember because they tell a story. The rhetorical elements of architecture and design are a physical testament to human nature: people honoring or one-upping each other, making dubious economic choices, and constantly causing scandal through art. Nothing about that has changed through the centuries, for better or worse. The fact that citizens of past centuries were as complexly motivated as anyone alive today is something I have always known but never genuinely felt until our travels through Greece. And that, to be frank, is embarrassing and sad.
I am quite distressed that I came to this realization so late in my academic career – not for myself, but because I know that there are others like me who may never have the chance to travel with or learn from good storytellers. As someone who wishes to teach in the future, it is a valuable lesson. Enthusiasm, attention to detail, and the freedom to explore are vital parts of the creative process, and actively incorporating these elements into teaching can resurrect a subject in the mind of anyone who’s willing to listen.