We talked everything related to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in June 2018. Check out the archived Twitter moment HERE to gather some ideas on how to teach this text through an anti-bias, anti-racist lens.
From Black Lives Matter, to the #MeToo movement, to reconciliation for multi-generational crimes against Tribal nations, the #DisruptTexts chat about Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible was a moment in time where powerful thinking and conversation transpired. How do we move beyond the traditional considerations of McCarthyism, feminism and the effect of Puritanism on society? How do we look at central themes, such as religious persecution, scapegoating, “witch-hunts”, and patriarchy as existing forces that shape society in order to read this work with a forward-facing, critical eye?
A traditional reading of The Crucible is one that looks at the work as a powerful piece of social commentary that came out of the McCarthy era and captured a moment in American history when suspicion and mass hysteria lead to the persecution of thousands of American citizens. The work is often a standard part of high school Language arts curriculum and is often taught concurrently with social studies courses examining the era.
Educator and literary scholar Dulce-Marie Flecha commented during the chat that, “We are not what we read, we are how we read,” and so, learning how to read this text through the lens of a any critical theory will require some unconventional thinking and exploration of ideas that may historically not have been given priority. We make room, in educational spaces, to explore ideas that are comfortable and familiar to us, and those areas in which we can pass on knowledge we already have. But we know that art is a reflection of the world we live in and in order for it to have the greatest impact on the present and future, we must support students in the development of a critical consciousness that has the potential to expand their world.
What are some ways to do this? Educators in the chat discussed using The Crucible as a way to open up conversations about prison and bail reform, ways to interrogate systems of power and privilege that marginalize people of color, and many others from minoritized populations. Several educators also discussed specific ways to disrupt practices of analyzing literature that disproportionately center and privilege white, Christian, males and their perspectives–as is the case with this play. AP Language arts educator and #DisruptTexts co-founder, and scholar Tricia Ebarvia questioned, “How does the play perpetuate the ‘good man who makes a mistake’ narrative while marginalizing and vilifying others?” Questions such as this one give us a way to both analyze the impact this work has had on the development of mass consciousness for those who include it as part of their literary lineage and consider ways to unpack subconscious thought patterns that lead to the perpetuation of a racist, sexist, patriarchal status quo.
Reading The Crucible with a critical eye toward disruption offers an avenue for transforming oppressive actions and thoughts rooted in the patriarchal hegemony that all-too-often lead to laws, policies, and other practices that oppress and dehumanize in every society. Miller’s decision, for example, to caricaturize the only black female, Tituba, the slave, does have consequences both in the play and in the real world, especially if that caricaturization goes unchallenged or unmentioned. Furthermore, though many Language arts classes are accustomed to analyzing the text through a feminist lens, the feminist lens–historically and traditionally–centers white female concerns. A de-colonization lens offers an analysis of the work through the eyes of those of us who are descendants of people harmed by the legacy of colonization, used religious and other cultural beliefs to justify slavery, genocide and other forms of multi-generational emotional and physical violence.
We know that we are living in a world that still uses mass hysteria, paranoia and xenophobia to maintain control over a populace accustomed to being misinformed and manipulated through the media. We know that “fake news” is actually real in its ability to sway public opinion and lead to serious consequences, and so is the power of a trending hashtag to create buzz around an event or person, often blending fact with fiction always with an eye on manipulating public opinion to one’s advantage. One of the most important questions we pose is why, in education, we tend to teach young people to read literature in a way that centers ideas and beliefs belonging to one group as a common body of knowledge that belongs to us all. However, as The Crucible shows, a truth is only a truth if people accept it as such.
Perhaps some of the most interesting conclusions from the chat are the many ways in which educators are disrupting the reading of this text with a view toward how modern “McCarthyism”, mass hysteria, sexism, patriarchy, and scapegoating still operate today. Perhaps we as a community of educators can learn to dig even deeper and analyze the underlying factors that keep us from elevating our consciousness to a higher form of humanity, one that values and defends true justice–rather than the appearance of it. Perhaps transforming the way we think, will also transform the way we act and the very process of transformation will serve as a type of reparation, a way to reconcile our troubled past with our ruthless and all-too-often inhumane present.