I believe that literacy is the central, dominant issue in a liberal education. The ability to access a broad range of texts in a deeply sophisticated, critical method is essential in every academic discipline. More importantly, it is necessary for the individual and social responsibilities that confront every member of a democratic society. Paraphrasing Jefferson, an informed citizenry is the life blood of a democracy. As the sources of information proliferate, the need for the knowledge and critical skill required by individuals to negotiate texts increases exponentially. Popular forms of journalism, such as blogs, and pooled knowledge projects like wikipedia have created new spaces and increased opportunity for discourse. These are spaces where new possibilities for the transaction of ideas occur every day. They are also spaces where propoganda, hate speech, and defamation can occur, almost unchecked. Should our goal as ELA teachers not be to create a citizenry that can inform themselves? In the face of such a deluge of information, I would argue that our greatest responsibility to our students is to engage the critical skills necessary to perform these kinds of transactions (between the individual and text, between texts, etc.)
Dr. Stearns spoke of the importance of relationships during our last class. Think about how you access new knowledge. Do you just file away new information? I would contend that knowledge acquisition occurs as part of a more organic process. In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari distinguish between a single root, which can progress in only one direction, adding on to its ends, and the rhizome, which spreads in multiple directions, expanding into new spaces as they become available. I believe we think rhizomatically, therfore we should teach rhizomatically. One often hears the saying that writers do not write in a vacuum. Nor do readers read in one, nor should we teach in one. Texts are best understood in relation to their readers and to other texts. Why do we teach Shakespeare as if he is an historical figure? His texts are very much alive, but they are treated as if they are pieces in a museum. Yet, we are still struggling with the enormity of the themes of his greatest works. Is Hamlet really about anything more than whether a person could do some evil to do a greater good? Can we read Shylock’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice without reflecting on the continuing inequality enforced against humans everywhere because of mere difference? Is that not also the most troubling aspects of Othello? Instead of reading The Merchant of Venice in terms of what students can learn about difference and an ethical negotiation of difference (which never occurs in the play), we focus on the personification of ducats and daughters (which is interesting in relation to the larger topic I suggested, but less so in-and-of itself).
When I was writing my MA thesis, the most important question my advisor asked me was “why is this study important?” I struggled with that question. I struggle with it now as I consider why teaching ELA is important. Why do students require the sophisticated literacy I have been describing? Thomas Friedman seems to suggest that they need it so that they can perform the kind of conceptually driven tasks that will be required of them in the careers that will be available to them in a “flat world.” Perhaps, but I think there is an even more essential quality that this kind of literacy can, and should, promote. Mark Edmundsson suggests that we read in order to question and further develop our most deeply held values, which he calls “final narratives.” I agree. Texts question other texts, and no text is more important to each of us as these narritives are. We should be teaching students to interrogate texts using other texts, including self-created texts. The greatest wisdom comes to us from the temple at Delphi: gnothi seauton (know thyself). We should be teaching textual sophistication. That is, we need to make our students aware of how they make meaning of all the texts around them. Students need to be empowered to enter into a discourse with texts, not merely experience them.
Hi everyone, its Donna. Before delving into the subject of ELA I just wanted to let everyone know that I did get the promotion I applied for and begin on Tuesday. I am looking forward to the new challenge. Anyway, in regards to teaching ELA, I view it as a tool for students to use to advance their own ambitions. Especially in high school which is a time of discovery in what they are passionate about and should be encouraged through reading whether novels, journals, newspapers, etc. They need to be taught how the power of words can be used to their benefit as in employment, college applications, marriage and friendships, getting a promotion, etc. As for challenges and what I would like to learn are all of the creative techniques others teachers have used to engage students especially with classic texts such as Shakespeare. While I know many of my own, you can never have too many tricks up your sleeve. Have a great holiday weekend and see you all on Tuesday.
Hi Everyone, it’s Allison
Professor Stearn’s questions certainly make one stop and think.
“What do you really believe about the teaching of English Language Arts?
Given that belief or beliefs, what is it you feel that you need to learn–want to learn–about reading and critical literacies (how is it, for example, that we understand what a critical literacy looks like in practice?) this semester?”
As someone who loves English Language Arts, it was always easy for me to get involved in English class. I liked most of the books that we read, and I always read the books that were assigned. I know this is not the case for many students, though. I believe the teacher of an English Language Arts class must strive to engage all of the students, even the ones who don’t want to read. I think it’s important to find books that will reach the students, but I think a challenge lies in making some of the more difficult texts (Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, etc) more approachable. This is something that I would like to learn how to do.
Do any of you remember reading a particular book that you didn’t enjoy in high school? When I was in high school, I hated reading The Scarlet Letter. I’ve always been a slow reader, and this book took me forever. I read it for summer reading and didn’t have the advantage of classroom discussions while I worked through it. As a teacher, I would want to find a way to help students through experiences like this one. I’d like to learn how to make the difficult books easier to get though.
Hi everyone this is Sofia Penna. I am wondering if anyone knows how to add a graphic of sorts next to our posts? Some people have pictures of themselves or a symbol that they like, and I would really like to have one, too. How is that done? (As you can tell, the blog world is new to me.) Thanks!!!
I enjoyed meeting new faces tonight and seeing some familiar ones. I think we have the potential to be a strong learning community. I’m excited as I look forward to our work together this semester.
Following up on either or both of the questions I posed tonight:
What do you really believe about the teaching of English Language Arts?
Given that belief or beliefs, what is it you feel that you need to learn–want to learn–about reading and critical literacies (how is it, for example, that we understand what a critical literacy looks like in practice?) this semester?
Thanks in advance for your posts. I look forward to reading them. And do post them rather than add a comment. I’ve established a category for these posts called “class notes.” When you write your post you can check that category so that your post is easily tracked by category. Try it.
If you have any questions about the readings please get in touch. KES
This summer I have been reading Charles Frazier’s second novel, Thirteen Moons. It was a tall order to follow up Cold Mountain, and Thirteen Moons falls short, but that’s more a recommendation for the former than a criticism of the latter. I have also read a couple of good biographies. One is Reynolds’ John Brown, which deals with Brown’s complicated position fighting for a noble cause using tactics that roughly amounted to domestic terrorism. The other is the first volume of Wayne Franklin’s James Fenimore Cooper, an important re-assessment of that author’s place in antbellum American culture. I highly recommend all three books.
Finally, after some technical difficulties, I am able to post to our blog. My name is Ray Hedrick, and I’m a MAT student who plans on student teaching in the Fall of ’08.
I’m looking forward to the work that we are going to do this semester!
P.S. Has anyone read the new book by Stephenie Meyer, Eclipse?