Pedagogy of Pathos and the HIV Narrative: The Theory of Empathetic Critical Discourse in the English Classroom

By Audrey Elisa Kerr.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This essay explores the use of HIV narratives in multi-level English courses to advance empathy-based, prescriptive learning models in English studies. Currently, this model uses the life writings of people with HIV and AIDS in English 112: “HIV and Research Writing” and English 596: “African American Autobiography,” courses which -- in terms of student advancement and theoretical intention -- exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, but which present parallel opportunities to integrate cross-disciplinary critical thinking with empathetic (and localized) community awareness. The ultimate goal is twofold: 1) to more thoughtfully theorize the centrality of interactive learning to a graduate education and, 2) to frame exposure to HIV narratives as a cross-disciplinary venue to think about, write about and talk about words as connected to activity. The narratives, while raising local community issues, become a location for students to speculate about the relevance of self-authored narrative to any number of disciplinary problems (gathering HIV statistics, medical ethics, or safe-sex advertising, for example). This model, tested in one course, produced a demonstrated impact on integrative student learning: in English 586 (Spring 2006), students, after reading Sonia Sanchez’s Does Your House Have Lions -- a book length poetic rendering of the author’s brother’s life and death with AIDS -- met with a woman living with HIV. In the end students were mobilized to infuse HIV/AIDS advocacy and service projects into their learning experience.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS, Teaching Pedagogy

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 14, Issue 10, pp.75-80. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 497.855KB).

Dr. Audrey Elisa Kerr

Associate Professor, Department of English, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Dr. Audrey Elisa is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Southern Connecticut State University. She is also the Chaplain and Spiritual Director at Leeway, Incorporated, the only skilled nursing facility in the state of Connecticut for people with HIV/AIDS.

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