Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An English Class at Augustana College

I was a guest of Augustana College, Illinois, from January 30 to February 2. The highlight of my visit was a talk I gave to over 40 students and faculty preparing to go to Ghana and Senegal on a study program. However, as often happens during such visits, I did other activities as well, one of which was to visit Professor John Tawiah-Boateng's English class.
Professor Tawiah-Boateng had told me that at the time of my visit, the class would be reading Chinua Achebe's short story, "Marriage is a Private Affair," and I was to lead the discussion on that story. Introducing me to the students, he mentioned my various academic activites, travels, and publications. He noted that I had written a study guide on Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart." Before this invitation to Augustana College, I had not read Achebe's "Marriage is a Private Affair." Reading the story, as I was preparing for this visit, I found it to be vintage Achebe.
Not only does Achebe dwell on conflict between indigenous African and European culture, but he also explores the contradictions within the so called indigenous culture. His description of an elder torn between the two conflicting worlds is memorable, if ironic, at the same time.In discussing the story, I led the students through an exploration of its themes, such as the dialectic between rural and urban reality, gender and the relations between men and women, language and communication.
I dwelt on the central place of marriage in African culture as depicted in folklore and literature. I highlighted the specific issue of choosing a spouse and the cautionary narratives depicting young people who defied tradition and parental wishes: Amos Tutuola's "The Complete Gentleman" and Ama Ata Aidoo's "The Dilemma of a Ghost" and "Anowa."On the subject of parental wishes and injunctions, I mentioned Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" and the theme of the three caskets.
With imput from the students and Professor Tawian-Boateng, I think we had a good class. I can sit back, relax, and remember that class, reflecting on what a priviledge it is to be a teacher, blessed with the opportunity to touch minds across the world.

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