Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice

Publication Date

Spring 1997


To introduce students to the gender, culture and class dimensions of their reception of texts, I presented four short selections of literary humor. These forty two adult students, thirty women and twelve men, were beginning an intensive residency program to complete their bachelor's degrees at Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass. Ranging in age from their late twenties to late forties, many were human service workers, self-supporting divorced women and some were themselves recovering substance abusers. None were English or literature majors. Since I didn't want name recognition to influence their choices, I read the pieces aloud and gave them the examples without identifying the authors. The works represented contrasting narrative strategies, but all contained subject matter of high interest. Two were written by male authors and two were female. Students were asked to freewrite, noting places that struck them as funny, then rank the four in order of their preference and indicate the reason for their choices. I then revealed the identity and background of the writers. The exercise was intended as a teaching strategy and not as a research study. Their responses shed light on hidden gender and class dimensions of these texts, and pointed toward additional uses of humor in the curriculum. Though there isn't time to put you through the exercise, I'll try to capture the flavor of each excerpt I presented.