Dr Elisabeth Bell
English and History Teacher
PhD, Literature, Duke University
BA, Comparative Literature with minor in Imperial and Colonial World History, University of Michigan
Like the character Tengo in Haruki Murakami’s novel, 1Q84, I have always found “solutions” in great literature. Tengo explains that he returns from the world of a novel with a “suggestion … bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell.” Though not always immediately practical, the spell contains “a possibility” that inspires Tengo and drives him to transform his own life. I believe that the study of literature is important to the extent that it promotes a sense of possibility and can be, therefore, completely transformative.
A love for literature battles and collaborates in my heart with a need to study history. It is a lifelong quest to understand, as best I can, how historical developments have led to the crystallization of this particular world. In the investigation of the historical, I ask how history could have occurred differently. Finally, doubting the adequacy of any single academic discipline, I search for the historical in fiction, and the tendency toward fiction in every aspect of human life.
Why I Teach
Because I get to talk to the students every day …
I found my way to teaching because I live my life as a long, analytical conversation. I am a teacher who knows how to listen, constantly learning through an engagement with the minds and voices of others.
My research in history and literature has directly influenced my teaching method. In writing my doctoral dissertation, I studied twentieth-century and contemporary American novels addressing themes of pedagogical and societal forms, as well as historical social movements around primary and secondary education that occurred in the US in the 1960s and 70s. In the creation of community schools, such as the Black Panther Oakland Community School and the American Indian Movement’s Heart of the Earth Survival School, teachers and community members strove to create learning environments that would support students’ understanding of themselves as equal and involved learners, and a system of education that would correspond to the movements’ broader visions of a more equitable society. Students were not viewed as passive receptacles of knowledge transferred from the teacher, but as active participants in a collaborative learning process.
Influenced by these schools, I work to teach as a guide. It is my goal to lead students toward the responsibility and joy of learning rather than toward a particular knowledge set. With literature and history as my medium, I aim to be the teacher imagined by the writer Raoul Vaneigem, who helps the student “ … in his or her long, poetic journey toward autonomy.”
I love teaching at ECA because it is a school that inspires an enthusiasm for learning. I also like to think that the students I encounter now might one day make the world a better place. It is a privilege to meet them and to offer whatever tools I can.