Wednesday, March 30, 2011

September 1973: Literature at the College Level

Question: What are the problems with teaching literature at the college level?

Answer/Quote: “Here is a seldom mentioned but universally known fact of our profession, bluntly stated: the vast majority of our undergraduate students do not love or appreciate literature as we do. Indeed, the value of studying literature, the rewards of reading, are not immediately apparent to a surprisingly large number of students, despite a vaguely conceived (and externally imposed) notion that reading ‘serious’ literature is somehow essential to becoming ‘a well-rounded person.’

“So we shake our heads in dismay, share our war stories in faculty lounges, rejoice in our occasional successes, and generally bemoan these students’ lack of interest, spotty education, and limited life experiences; the sorry state of basic literacy in recent years; the dismal and misguided teaching conducted in high schools; and, eventually, the anti-intellectual strain in American culture itself, exacerbated by television, Danielle Steel, and Stephen King. Embedded in all this are unstated inklings that our entire enterprise may be suspect or indefensibly elitist.”

The author’s solution to this problem is stated in his title: “Connecting Literature to Students’ Lives.”

Comment: When English majors feel this way about literature, as was stated to me by the graduate of a major university who said, “Nobody reads Henry James, any more,” the believers in reading literature as a way of sensitizing human beings to life are in real trouble. I believe that the idea as stated in the author’s title is the only solution to the problem for students who are not planning to become English majors—and maybe for students who are. RayS.

Title: “Connecting Literature to Students’ Lives. Dan Morgan. College English (September 1993) 491-500.

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