Contact Zones

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Conquering the Conqueror

Parodies are pieces of writing or presentations that deliberately copy and make fun of other writings or subjects. Although parodies may offend or make others uncomfortable, they have a peculiar way of benefitting learners by forcing them outside of their natural realms, allowing them to be analytical, and curious of their surroundings. Mary Louise Pratt describes this as creating a contact zone where parody, critique, and unseemly comparisons create social disruptions in which students are challenged. In her essay “Arts of the Contact Zone,” she proposes that classrooms should take up this style of educating. What would a contact zone in a classroom perform like?

Out of all the elements that are capable of creating a contact zone, parody is one of the more familiar choices that would behave well in a classroom. Say for instance an English classroom is designed to be a parody of the students for a week. The professor decided that maybe the students are not performing as well as he had hoped. They haven’t been coming to class, they do not always bring their drafts and their efforts on their papers are lacking. He wants to challenge them by informing his students about all the stereotypes aimed at young students. He brings up statistics about texting in class, the percentage of homework actually turned in on time, the hours a night spent studying, partying, or drinking, test scores and more. He mocks them when he walks in the classroom, wearing baggy clothes and a sideways hat. He asks them to repeat their questions claiming he wasn’t listening because he was texting on his phone. What kind of reaction would the students have to this kind of behavior?

As a student in this classroom, a person might be confused, angry even at the assumptions made about his or her generation. Everyone is different. The professor can’t make a generalization about everyone in the class based on a stereotype. It is not fair. But what the...
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