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READING TEXT workshop by Minu Tharoor

PeaceWorks organized a workshop titled ‘Reading Text’, conducted by Minu Tharoor (Professor, New York University) on 13 August 2009. The aim of this workshop was to help teachers to use the simple exercise of reading and turning it into a powerful thought-provoking tool for the students. Apart from a large number of teachers, the workshop was attended by a bunch of university students, who expressed interest in being a part of PeaceWorks’ initiative in schools. The workshop explored how stories function, and how we function in the process of reading them. All ‘stories’—whether fictional, narrative, historical accounts, or
newspaper reports—are produced within socio-political frameworks shaped by issues such as class, gender and religious affiliations. Through active reading and discussion, Professor Tharoor engaged closely with the texts to go beyond the surface meanings and discern the patterns, images and phrases that reveal underlying ideologies and attitudes.

Among the questions that she explored were:

1. What kinds of texts – stories, essays, poems etc – are likely to hold the students’ attention and make reading an attractive exercise?
2. How can we as educators help them to deepen their experience of reading?
3. Should students apply all that they read to their own lives and worlds? Is there a value in the unfamiliar?
4. Stereotypes feature in some of the texts. Why do they exist? How much of them do we share?
5. These are texts primarily meant for adults. Are they accessible to senior class students? Is the violence in some too disturbing?

Finally, the workshop considered whether texts offer solutions to the problems they overtly or indirectly present, and whether through our interpretations we can find the possibilities of change and improvement for the society to which these ‘stories’—and we—belong.

Minu Tharoor teaches the Liberal Studies program – literature with art and film. Her work is on feminist issues, postcolonialism and fiction. She is currently working on a book called The Empire Within – 19th and 20th century fiction.