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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Step One

So my core belief is that literature is transformative. It "kicks you in the ass with its transformative power," to quote a phrase that I've used before. Yet my literary pedagogy is fairly conventional in a lot of ways. A student of mine might not suspect that this is what I believe. What I need to do is to let my enthusiasm shine through in a way that it often doesn't. Of course, teaching students who don't like literature is a challenge, but an unenthusiastic approach is no good for them, either.

What is the position of the student here? One view is that literature is a purely or mostly academic pursuit. It is part of school, not life. Literary texts are difficult to read, and the teacher (in high school) or the professor (in college) knows more about the texts than the students. The idea is to teach the code, the formula, for reading a text and coming up with academically acceptable answers. Those are "teachable." I cannot teach the transformation part as easily, but I can suggest that what literature is about is beauty, violence, gratitude and despair.

A student whose main interest is in Spanish (the language) has no necessary interest in Spanish literature. If the student is not already an avid reader, then the difficulty of literature is redoubled. How many times have I heard the statement: "I don't understand poetry in English, how do you expect me to understand it in Spanish?" If I had a million dollars for every time I've heard that, I'd be a multibillionaire.

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