As an assistant instructor, that last one really irked me because everything they described was a complete opposite image of me and who I strive to be as a teacher. My mom would always begin with the same description of Ms. Galindo, “Oh I still remember, she would always dress beautifully matching the color of her clutch to her shoes, and she’d wear pastel-colored suits every day.” I would just roll my eyes because my students are lucky if I wear a button-up shirt, jeans, and matching socks. My dad would add to the conversation by describing how Mr. Ramirez, his history teacher, carried himself with so much authority that all the students would listen to him even if he went on hour-long lectures. I would just sigh thinking about how I shorten my lectures more and more to make sure I don’t lose students already very limited attention span. I would just listen to them and blame it all on nostalgia and their longing for the past, which was making them think everything including teachers were better in the past. However, I was not doing what I aim in my classes and giving their experiences enough credit as I held a very limited understanding of nostalgia.
Svetlana Boym writes in “Nostalgia and Its Discontents” how nostalgia “is not always retrospective; it can be prospective as well. The fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, have a direct impact on the realities of the future” (Boym). While nostalgia can be understood as yearning for a different time, it would be wrong to simply reduce it to an individual’s problem or sickness. Boym writes how nostalgia can be understood as a symptom of our age or a “historical emotion.” Therefore, thinking that I could disregard my parents’ account of their childhood and their teachers was a lost opportunity to reflect not only in terms of the past, but also in terms of the present and future. Their experiences and their memories of their teachers does not rival what I thought was my modern or more up to date understanding of education, teaching, and literacy. As Boym describes, “nostalgia is not ‘antimodern’; it is not necessarily opposed to modernity but coeval with it.” In other words, nostalgia and modernity can be considered contemporaries acting simultaneously in an entangled relationship between past, present, and future.
Nostalgia can serve as a pathway towards critical reflection on the modern condition. Nostalgia or longing for a different time even if it is a past class or a former teacher can allow us to “explore side shadows and back alleys, rather than straight road of progress; it allows us to take a detour from the deterministic narratives of history” (Boym). This semester I was able to teach an ENGL 1301 course at El Paso Community College (EPCC) as part of my work as a Teaching Fellow and I worked towards incorporating some of these ideas into my curriculum. I emphasized the need to make invisible visible as an access point into critical thinking. The ideas by Boym correlate with the idea that students need spaces to reflect and think not only about the ways they are fitting into their environment and time, but also about the ways they are misfitting with their time or the nostalgia and cognitive dissonance they might be experiencing their academic journeys.
Nostalgia can become a practice through which students can develop what William C. Kurlinkus defines as nostalgic resistances. Kurlinkus provides the example of Jo who represents a woman being creative in a technical workplace by knitting in a place that has historically excluded women. He describes, “Jo, for example, intentionally knits in front of her digital writing class to highlight this discontinuity: …’Yeah, I’m knitting…’ Because they think of it as arts and crafts, doing cross-stitch, purposeless, unimportant.’” (57). This example aims to show how Jo’s nostalgic craft of knitting shows there is more to life than her doing her job or career as part of her identity.
In a similar fashion, it is vital that as teachers in a community college, we understand that students are more than a student. Students’ identities are not encapsulated by what they do or fail to do inside the classroom. As teachers, we should encourage to see other aspects of their life in the classroom and encourage them to bring memories, hobbies, and the expertise they hold. At the same time, Jo’s example points to how certain aspects might open a space for reflection instead of overlooking a student as simply being disengaged with the classroom material or as being nostalgic. If a student decided to write instead of using a laptop to take notes like the majority of the students, it might be a form of resisting and an opportunity to explore what we could reclaim from that time that we’re missing in our current time.
Nostalgic design of classroom and the overall community college experience speaks to the need to understand how “memorial interactivity aids designers in their ethical responsibility towards inclusivity, welcoming an ever-diverse set of client minds into co-design” (162). In our case, teachers can be understood as designers and clients as those students we should be inviting and taking into consideration as co-designers. Nostalgia can be understood not only as unimportant emotions, but as a disruption in time that can lead to active reflection and critical thinking. Additionally, students can create nostalgic resistances through which they can become critical thinkers about their identities and co-crate disruptions that point to the need for a greater fluidity between their home lives and academic lives and even different times linked to their memories. Therefore, I’ve started listening with more attention to the stories my parents tell me about their teachers and even though I have not changed my teaching outfits to suits with matching shoes and purses, I try to figure out what they miss about those times and what is not being represented for them in current teaching practices. I keep them in mind as I design curricula and I view them and their memories as co-creators in the same way we should view students in the community college.
Written by Corina Lerma, Doctoral Teaching Fellow
The University of Texas at El Paso, The Humanities Collaborative at EPCC-UTEP
Boym, Svetlana. “Nostalgia and Its Discontents.” The Hedgehog Review, 2015,
Kurlinkus, William C. Nostalgic Design Rhetoric, Memory, and Democratizing Technology.
University Of Pittsburgh Press, 2018.
Banner image courtesy of El Paso Community College.
A couple of days ago, I came across an article about a letter written by John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe—yes, the Nobel-prize winner to the curvy sex symbol. But what would a literary writer be asking from the Hollywood bombshell?