Integrating Controversial Critical Theory into the Classroom

Implementing controversial and ideological charged concepts into classroom curriculum can be a challenging task for teachers, especially when dealing with controversial topics such as Marxism. I believe we must take into consideration several aspects when making this decision and try to find the best method to incorporate these types of ideology. We must look at the complexity of the material and find ways to make it easier for students to comprehend. We must also establish an environment for learning that fosters critical thinking and open- mindedness. Critical thinking is a very important tool for high school students to learn and teachers should strive, not only to educate students, but also to help develop well-rounded individuals that are capable of thinking for themselves and developing their own ideas about particular material, despite how controversial it may be. When developing and teaching a unit in literature and class, that incorporates critical theory like Marxism, I believe it is my duty, as an educator, to find a middle ground, in which, I am able to provide material and instruction objectively using outright terms but also subtle enough to avoid overwhelming students.

Before incorporating these concepts and introducing them to my students, I believe it would be important and necessary to first introduce literary theory to them. It is very important for students to understand that various theories exist and that literary theory is a means of understanding the various ways people read texts. Students will grasp the idea that “All literary theories are lenses through which we can see texts”(Appleman). Students will also understand that theses theories, controversial or not, are the proponent’s ideas and using these theories we can read texts through different perspectives regardless to whether we agree with them or not.

Critical theory is important in implementing critical thinking in literature and when teaching my students about controversial topics, such as Marxism, I wouldn’t be afraid to use Marxist terms, despite them having negative connotations. I would give students background information on Karl Marx and think it is very important for students to have an understanding of his background and his contributions. I believe vocabulary is very important in understanding Marxism/social class theory and simplifying difficult terminology is a crucial in helping students learn content, but we should not shy away from using Marxist terms. When thinking of the best way to integrate this critical theory, I believe I would take more of a subtle approach. Instead of diving deep into “From the Communist Manifesto”, which students would find very overwhelming, I would introduce main ideas that Marxism, such as class structure, capitalism, and the allocation of power in different groups of society. Discussion on how these terms would apply to the world we live in would allow students to make connections. In the society we live in today students are already aware that their exists a separation of classes and a culture of the haves and have- nots. Taking this into consideration, we could discuss why this exists and Marx’s thoughts were on it. Reading material from Deborah Appleman displays different methods and alternative ways of introducing this type of controversial material. Reading passages from Hamlet and The Great Gatsby, through a Marxist lens, are perfect examples of how we can integrate this critical theory for high school students in a more subtle way. By introducing literary criticism and controversial concepts we accomplish the task of opening student’s eyes to different perspectives while teaching them to think critically.


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