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illu45  ·  714 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Books you just couldn't fucking get into?

    Here's the thing: by the time you're teaching literature in college? You're getting the kids that agree with you. Your audience has self-selected to your worldview. You will never encounter anyone like me because those lesser teachers have already fucked us up.

You're right, there's absolutely a high amount of self-selection in college. This isn't unique to literary studies, though. I speak mostly about college because that's what I have the most experience with, but I know many secondary-level educators, and none of them teach the way you describe. Again, if the goal of literary studies at the secondary level was to tell kids what to think about books, teachers would assign multiple choice tests instead of essays (God knows high school teachers are more overworked than college instructors).

I don't doubt the veracity of your personal experiences with literature classes. I simply ask you to stop extrapolating from "I stopped writing for ten years because I was required to find something nice to say about Aldo Fucking Leopold" to " the pedagogy of "great books" is bullshit" as though your poor personal experience has made you an authority on the pedagogy of literary studies.

Stuff like

    The way you think you're teaching? It fucking drove me away from literature

is an unnecessary and unsupported attack on my pedagogy. I've tried to demonstrate over and over again how my pedagogy is different from the pedagogy you've encountered, yet, because of your personal negative experience, you've refused to listen, instead doing a great deal of work in order to keep insisting that I (along with all other literary educators) must be doing harm with our teaching.

    I am here to denigrate and dismiss books.

That's fine, lots of people like to denigrate and dismiss books. Personally, I think that's a silly pursuit. I also think that denigrating "great books" is really no different from denigrating popular ones. Both revolve around a weirdly prescriptivist view about what others should like and dislike (and I know that you think that that's a view that literary educators take, but believe me, it really isn't). But for some reason some people get really worked up when someone else says that they like something that those people happen to dislike. I guess those sorts of discussions are what the Internet is about these days...


    you have not made a compelling argument that my criticisms of literature and its instruction are unfounded

I wanted to address this, since perhaps calling on my personal experience in talking to educators, designing syllabi, and participating in curricula reviews is simply too personal an appeal. Your claim, as I understand it, is that a) high school teachers only teach texts that have been deemed by society to be "great works" and b) that in teaching those texts, they simply want their students to be able to figure out and regurgitate the "objective truth" of those texts. While I would argue that both things can be disproven by simply talking to a high school English teacher, I'll provide some actual studies on the topic.

First, Jane Agee's 2000 study, "What is effective literature instruction?" (if there's a paywall let me know and I can post the pdf somewhere), page 307:

    English educators concur that an exclusive focus on surveys of national literatures or on literary conventions and analysis allows little room for developing intellectual curiosity and growth (Dias, 1992,1996; HiƱes, 1995; Langer, 1992,1995; Purves, Rogers, & Soter, 1995; Rabinowitz 8c Smith, 1997). Narrow conceptions of literature and reading, especially those that are marked by monologic rather than dialogic practices, establish literature as a cultural icon with little room for students to develop critical interpretive skills.

Teachers agree that simply teaching students the "messages" or "truths" of "great books" is unengaging and unproductive, and they've done so for at least 20 years.

Similarly, in a highly-cited 2003 study by some of the foremost researchers in pedagogy in the US states, the researchers state:

    A variety of investigators have argued that high-quality discussion and exploration of ideas-not just the presentation of high-quality content by the teacher or text-are central to the developing understandings of readers and writers (Alvermann et al., 1996; Eeds & Wells,1989; Gambrel & Almasi, 1996; Guthrie, Schafer, Wang, & Afflerbach, 1995)

English teachers are interested in discussion and the exploration of ideas, not in simply presenting content to students (and again, they have been interested in this for at least the past two decades). Moreover, these studies demonstrate that teachers are often deeply interested in issues of pedagogy and spend time and energy thinking about the courses they construct and the texts they select. The vast majority of teachers are not trying to "make every child [they] encounter suffer through the same hazing" that they apparently went through.