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comment by kleinbl00
kleinbl00  ·  619 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Books you just couldn't fucking get into?

Since you're an educator I'll spend a little extra time on this:

I stopped writing for ten years because I was required to 'give authors credit for having something interesting to say.'

I stopped writing for ten years because I was required to find something nice to say about Aldo Fucking Leopold.

I stopped writing for ten years because Willa Fucking Cather was held up as someone worth studying while Rudyard Kipling was held up as someone to mock.

I've made over 10 grand with my writing. I have, in the past, shared an agency with Stephen King (and hope to in the future). I am an objectively skilled writer and the approach my educators took in sharing "great books" drove me to mechanical engineering.

There's a world of difference between disagreeing with your friends as to whether or not Game of Thrones is of value and having your grade depend on the correct interpretation of Axe in Hand.

    I don't think anyone who teaches literature actually believes that books contain "truth" in any objective way, at least.

I went to a school that, at the time, was ranked in the top ten in the United States. I choked on objective fucking truth. MAKE NO MISTAKE - educators and their forced interpretation of 'great works' stopped my enjoyment of literature and my participation in prose COLD for ten.fucking.years. Riddle me this: one of your students hands in a report on, say, the scarlet letter that argues the protagonist is passive, the narrator is sexist even within his own time and the message of the book is 'don't make waves.' Do you consider that student's points? Or do you immediately go to where he misinterpreted things?

I never wrote that essay. But I wrote plenty like them, early on. And what you miss is the fundamental basis of your entire line of argument: you're right, that kid's wrong, and if we can just box his ears a bit he'll come around.

You know why kids are subjected to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Because thirty fuckin' years ago, 'boomers thought it was brilliant. THEY'RE WRONG. But it's gonna be another 20-30 years of dragging kids' faces through the muck before people give up.

Some books just have longer muck hold time.




illu45  ·  619 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I stopped writing for ten years because I was required to 'give authors credit for having something interesting to say.'

    I stopped writing for ten years because I was required to find something nice to say about Aldo Fucking Leopold.

    I stopped writing for ten years because Willa Fucking Cather was held up as someone worth studying while Rudyard Kipling was held up as someone to mock.

I'm sorry that you've had bad experiences with how literature was taught to you. Unfortunately, lots of subjects are taught very poorly, especially at the secondary level. The way that literature was taught to you is not how I teach. Nor is it the way that everyone I know in academia teaches.

    Riddle me this: one of your students hands in a report on, say, the scarlet letter that argues the protagonist is passive, the narrator is sexist even within his own time and the message of the book is 'don't make waves.' Do you consider that student's points? Or do you immediately go to where he misinterpreted things?

Of course I consider the student's points. I am paid to consider the points made by every single student in my class, in their essays, in their discussions with their peers, and in their talks with me in my office. That's my job. I consider the points my students make and the evidence that they use to support those points. If the points are well-made and the evidence is well-presented, the student gets a good mark. Though I realize you may not believe me when I say this, whether or not I personally agree with the points being made really isn't relevant if the evidence is there. I (and every other literature educator I know) isn't trying to get kids to say the 'right thing' about texts. If that was all there was to it, we'd just give everyone multiple choice tests rather than making them slog through essays that they find difficult to write and we find time-consuming to mark. We're trying to get them to engage and think carefully about the texts we read. I yearn for my students to come up with their own arguments about texts rather than just parroting what I've said back to them. Often those arguments are weak (or sometimes actually wrong in the sense of being completely contradicted by the text), and that's when I try to get the students to consider the text in more depth, pointing out what I think are relevant passages and helping them think of ways to make their arguments stronger.

I'm not hoping to convince you of the value of literary analysis or of 'great books' here. It was clear before I wrote my first post that we've had very different experiences when it comes to literature and education. I have no doubt that your writing has served you well. I'm not here to denigrate or dismiss your books. Would you please stop trying to denigrate and dismiss mine?

kleinbl00  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

For clarity, our discussion started when I took the pedagogy I've encountered to task for its inflexibility and certainty of perspective. You responded to say, in essence, that you don't teach that way and neither does anyone you know.

My answer was basically "that's fine, but that's all I encountered." Your response was basically "that's fine, but I teach like this."

My answer was "No, listen. The way you think you're teaching? It fucking drove me away from literature." Now your answer is basically "well, sure. That was high school. Here in college we don't do that."

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.

I am here to denigrate and dismiss books. That's what the entire point of this thread is about. In every other form of art critique, it's acceptable and encouraged to say "this work is fucking bullshit, chapter and verse." In literature there's a consensus view. Disagree with that consensus view and you're an infidel.

I haven't taken your courses. I never will. I commend you for your commitment to excellence and open-mindedness. But you have not made a compelling argument that my criticisms of literature and its instruction are unfounded. More than that, you've reinforced my suspicion that people who are part of the problem think they're part of the solution.

illu45  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    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...

EDIT:

    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)
(688)

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.

kleinbl00  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I guess those sorts of discussions are what the Internet is about these days...

How high-minded of you.

Every study you cited was conducted after I graduated. It's entirely possible that things have gotten radically better since the stone age - but since you chose to pick a fight with my assertion that books are bullshit, you're certainly not convincing me.

oyster  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I wouldn't rate my English classes very high but you get salty like that when you have to get yourself screened for dyslexia after dropping out of college the first time. I even had the better English teacher, the other one completely ruined the subject for a number of my friends.

illu45  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Well, what evidence do you have to support your claim that books are bullshit? Which books are we talking about, anyhow, exactly?

kleinbl00  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Let's back it out and look at it from another way: what evidence do you have that continuing this discussion will do anything but annoy me and exasperate you?

My whole argument has been that forcing literature down someone's throat turns them off from literature. I've gone ten rounds on this. I haven't read something I was forced to read in twenty fuckin' years, yo, and here I am, being lectured by a college professor to leave your fucking books alone ("Would you please stop trying to denigrate and dismiss mine?").

Is this supposed to make me come around to your way of thinking? Am I now supposed to see the error of my ways? Yes - I have an n of 1 but this particular n is the alpha and omega of my own private Idaho so the correlation is strong and relevant to me. Here's where I was:

    And we forget that when we engage in these discussions - your baggage ain't mine, mine ain't yours, and god help you if you try to make me carry yours or put mine down.

And now I've got two sets. So thanks for that.

Here's the dumb thing: I was the one person in this entire thread who left a little room for the idea that slagging on books wasn't the greatest idea. Now? Now I'm radicalized. I feel like starting a fire with a couple copies of Jane Austen just to piss you off. All I did was express an opinion and make the mistake of defending it instead of telling you to STFU. Is this what you wanted to accomplish?

illu45  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    Is this supposed to make me come around to your way of thinking?

No. I'm not hoping that you'll suddenly come to love Austen or come to think that literary educators are great. It's very clear to me (and has been from the very start) that I'm not going to change your opinion on this. As you yourself said, "I haven't taken your courses. I never will".

What I've tried to do is demonstrate that your broad-sided, authoritative-sounding attacks on not only a whole bunch of books but also a whole set of professions are based on nothing more than anger and ignorance. You claimed "the pedagogy of "great books" is bullshit" and that "most books are taught not because they are good, but because they simply and clearly illustrate whatever point the instructor is trying to make". I've provided evidence demonstrating that this is not the pedagogy of most literary educators (and hasn't been for the past two decades). You responded by saying that my evidence isn't relevant to your experience. But I never questioned the veracity of your experience. What I questioned is your use of your experience to make broad, authoritative statements about books and teaching.

    I was the one person in this entire thread who left a little room for the idea that slagging on books wasn't the greatest idea.

Most people here weren't slagging on books. They were relating their personal experience with particular books. Some people offered reflections on their reading preferences and habits. When I suggested to you that "I've found that I can get a lot more out of books if I give their authors credit for having something interesting to say" your response was to tell me how much harm it's done to you to have to give credit to authors that you disliked. You then went on to state "I am here to denigrate and dismiss books. ". And that's fine. If you want to denigrate and dismiss books, you're welcome to do so. If that's all you had done, I wouldn't have bothered to respond. But you didn't stop there. You went on to make sweeping claims about books and teaching as though they were facts rather than opinions. And that's why I logged in and offered a rebuttal of those claims, with the evidence that you so summarily dismissed. Since this is meant to be the "thoughtful web" I figured that maybe providing evidence and discussing my experience would be met with something other than attacks on me and what I do, but that hasn't proven to be the case.

EDIT: Thanks for the block. I guess that's one way of dealing with disagreement over your claims...

kleinbl00  ·  618 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    On the other hand, books are great, books are good, only bad people ban books, us intellectuals always know how to look down our noses at those horrible people who ban Horton Hears a Who because of its subversive ecological message. Therefore thou shalt not slag on the heroes of others because obviously that makes you a goose-stepping Nazi.

    What I've tried to do is demonstrate that your broad-sided, authoritative-sounding attacks on not only a whole bunch of books but also a whole set of professions are based on nothing more than anger and ignorance.

What you've done is proven my point.

Don't worry, I won't ever make you log in again.