Hermeneutics of Literacy Pedagogy

Authored by: Rob Simon , Gerald Campano

The Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415816243
eBook ISBN: 9781315717647
Adobe ISBN: 9781317510611


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In a gallery in Toronto, middle school students view an exhibit of paintings on pages from the memoir, Night, by Elie Wiesel (2006), which chronicles his experiences in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps from 1944 until his liberation in 1945 at sixteen years old. The artwork, created by adolescents and teachers who worked with Rob in a research collaborative called the Teaching to Learn Project (Simon et al. 2014), includes images of triangles, the symbol Nazis used to demarcate undesirable individuals, painted on individual book pages in an array of colors and patterns the artists chose to represent their visions of diversity and solidarity. Smaller images are displayed between large canvases covered in book pages, painted with translucent triangles of orange, purple, and blue, through which Wiesel’s text can be read (see Figure 31.1). Students move through the exhibit, pausing in front of paintings, to read dimensions of color, form, texture, line, and text. The exhibition After Night and students’ responses to it raise questions related to the function of art as a form of literary and historical inquiry. What role might the arts play in helping students make sense of a traumatic moment in human history? What are the dangers of aestheticizing trauma? How might a multimodal and artistic interpretation of a memoir such as Night call attention to the representational inadequacy of language? What are possibilities or impossibilities of students connecting with Elie Wiesel’s experiences? For example, what role might individuals’ own histories – Rob’s legacy as a grandson of Holocaust survivors or other participants’ family experiences of war or trauma – play in their interpretations of Wiesel’s text, or their responses to the horrors he documents?

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