Friday, November 30, 2007

The Power of Personal Experience in E-Learning: A U.S. Marine’s Memoir

Eugene Jackson’s recently published memoir, How Fear Moves, can be used in online courses that deal with creative non-fiction, literature, and film, as well as courses in sociology and psychology. Based on Jackson’s experiences rising from a harsh environment of abuse and urban poverty near Dallas, Texas, to success in the U.S Marine Corps, the memoir provides a rare and authentic view of a side of life many avoid. Used in conjunction with web resources that provide other examples of memoirs, rhetorics of autobiography, theories that explain how people come to understand people, human relations, and society, Jackson’s memoir can be used to encourage learners to make connections with the text, share experiences, and to develop a framework for future work.

The Journey Begins with Form and Function
Understanding the literary tradition of creative non-fiction, and the form and function of the memoir can help the reader start making connections between the works that he/she has read, and the impact they had on her life. In addition, the reader can begin to see how his own journal writing starts one on a great heuristic, and can be an effective method of self-discovery. As far as Augustine’s Confessions,, the memoir or confession has been a way in which literary texts reinforce a deep sense of shared humanity and spiritual, physical, and emotional vulnerability.

Learning Activity:
What type of memoir is How Fear Moves?
Investigate and post ideas and explanations in a discussion forum.

One good way to start is to begin with the definition of creative non-fiction, and then to different forms. One can argue that Jackson’s work is essentially a bildungsroman.

Creative non-fiction: Definition from the Web English Teacher:

Bildungsroman definition from Victorian Web:

The Narrative Begins: Excerpts and Dialogical Evocation of Other Memoirs

Jackson’s text is available in book form, as well as via excerpts in the web and audio posts. The reader is likely to find in Jackson’s work a deep resonance with his or own life, as well as other authors.

In doing so, an inner dialogue is established, even as one becomes aware of the presence of a narrative dialogical presence, something that Mikhail Bakhtin referred to as the “dialogic imagination” at google books here.

Excerpts of How Fear Moves (available via here) are also available through Jackon’s blog:

Jackson’s narrative starts in Como, Texas, and his narrative is a blend of episodes from his childhood, childhood imagination, and a kind of mystical dream-narrative. An example can be found in an audio of “Boxes”

In another example, his dream of his grandmother Estella, shows an archetypal power:

The narrative includes boyhood pranks and adventures. In many ways, it evokes the work of

Mark Twain: Life on the Mississippi

Richard Wright: Biography:
Native Son: google books edition
Black Boy: View of the author and his work:

Despite adversity, Jackson pursues an education. His quest to read, write, and to excel in his studies and in his physical self-discipline often reminds one of Frederick Douglass:

Frederick Douglass:
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: e-text:
PBS Guide to Frederick Douglass

Unfortunately, Jackson’s younger years are marked by abuse, and by watching adults struggle not only with poverty, but also addiction. No matter how difficult his situation, Jackson realizes that there are ways out. His world of the imagination gives him relief from pain, as well as his unwillingness to give up the fight for a better life, a better world.

He deals with the poverty and difficulties with humor:

The narrative does not stop at the end of childhood, but continues to Jackson’s experience in the Marines.

Other Marine memoirs include Wesley Fox’s Marine Rifleman, which also includes scenes and vignettes that illustrate how the bond between individuals in their units is forged.

Learning Activity:
Identify formative events in Jackson's life. Discuss how he views their impact on his sense of self. Discuss his response to stress and pressure.

Compare and contrast Jackson's narrative with that of others.

Respond with a journal entry and share with fellow learners, open discussion board posts, sharing video clips.

Contexts and Global Views, Including African American / Sociological Perspectives:

One can analyze Jackson’s narrative from many points of view. Because his life and life’s purpose are forged from the difficult environment of Como, Texas, and he so clearly describes life in that community, it is very useful to relate his narrative to what sociologists and ethnographers have written.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has expanded the field of African-American studies and has promoted an appreciation of the contribution of African Americans. He also addresses current issues help the public gain an understanding how, why, and when African Americans are perceived in certain ways.

Franz Fanon: Overview of his thoughts about post-colonialism, which includes notions about the internalization of oppression, and colonization of the imagination. Black Skins, White Masks is one of his most influential books. Here is an overview:

Cornel West: Race Matters and other influential works have helped raise awareness of the role of African Americans in the 20th century and beyond.

Never Forget a Journey of Revelations (discussion of hip-hop) – reaction to “ice age” and indifference to suffering of fellow human beings:

Part I:
Part II:

bell hooks: Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood

bell hooks has written provocative, fascinating, and insightful critiques of culture, gender relations, and representations of race, gender, and religion. Her memoir of her childhood brings to mind Maya Angelou's work, and it also discusses how a sense of self and an interpretation of one's place in society are formed in childhood.

Bell Hooks on Madonna:
bell hooks deconstructs American myths, and the construction of self and celebrity.

Bell Hooks and Henry Louis Gates:
Slide show with music and captions

Learning Activities:
List key ideas of the theorists presented in the readings above.

Discuss the ideas and how they relate to the memoirs linked above and referred to in this lesson.

Discuss the ideas of theorists and how they relate to specific ideas, descriptions, statements, or scenes in Jackson's memoir.

Essay / short answer with feedback
Sharing links and posts / videos
Sharing films and movies / pop culture ideas

The Stories We Tell: Constructing Worlds:

Finally, an effective approach to Jackson’s narrative it to look at the narrative structure and to understand how his story constructs a world. The values, the dynamics, and the way meaning is structured and interpreted shed light on the way our own culture programs us to think, and it makes us more aware of the processes we use to start to create order from chaos, a narrative (with some predictive value) of the events of our lives, and an explanation for the people we know and their behaviors.

Dan McAdams: The Stories We Live By (google books link)

Blog response to McAdams – Dare to Dream:

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966):
Social Construction of Reality (google books link)


Archetypes: A Way to Tell Ourselves We Understand the People We Meet, and What they Represent

In many ways, Jackson’s bildungsroman is a quest for heroes, and in his quest to find a hero, he himself becomes a kind of heroic presence as he overcomes adversity and develops a mental mindset that allows self-overcoming.

Joseph Campbell: Campbell takes Jung and the idea of myth, psyche, and symbol and applies it to the creation of the hero. The series built around Campbell’s writings, Mythos, can be found on YouTube:

Carl G. Jung: Jung’s psychology bases around the notion of archetypes.
Google Books: Four Archetypes: Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster

Here is a student’s response to Jung and Dawkins (memes), which is thought-provoking, especially because some may not agree.

Learning Activities - Stories and Archetypes

List archetypes and their functions
Discuss the dreams in Jackson's memoirs and how they relate to archetypes
Describe one scene and explain how the story helps build an identity

Depending upon the learners' access to high-speed connections and their ability to work with some of the web applications that are available, ask students to post their own video on google video or youtube and to connect to their own sites (MySpace, FaceBook, Ning, Tumblr, etc.).

Encourage them to share their own stories and scenes from their lives, and encourage them to list the memoirs / autobiographies that have shaped their lives.

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