Defending U of Minnesota literature course

  • Article by: Susan Henderson
  • Updated: May 6, 2013 - 7:48 PM

U program doesn't replace the literary canon as Emory University professor charges. Rather, it expands it, as Minnesota educators sought.

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supervon2May. 6, 13 8:50 PM

Remember, the number one goal is to remove any literature that has any morals contained within or any reference to conservative values. How else can you brainwash if there are opposite ideas?

luxaeternaMay. 6, 1310:07 PM

Thanks to Susan Henderson for clarifying what the program is really about and responding to the uninformed diatribe that began this topic. It sounds like a valuable program for Minnesota high school students.

luzhishenMay. 6, 1310:42 PM

Well, if it isn't the best literature, the course is still a dud. You have a limited opportunity to reach students facing a tsunami of schlock - and you need to teach the best.

DufferHMay. 6, 1310:42 PM

The writer tells us what authors aren't read in the program. It might be helpful if she also told us what authors are read.

endothermMay. 7, 1312:37 AM

I've got nothing against the "Classics," but I don't think it is necessarily wise to force them onto high school students while excluding other literature. Force a high school student to read Milton, and you may well drive them away and squelch their enthusiasm for reading. I say this as somebody who actually likes Milton. I learned to appreciate his writing later in life, but I wasn't prepared to understand it in high school. Very few students are. A good teacher needs to meet students where they are at and help them move forward. The conservative reading list promoted by the Emory professor does the opposite.

saintpaulreaderMay. 7, 13 5:25 AM

>>Remember, the number one goal is to remove any literature that has any morals contained within or any reference to conservative values. How else can you brainwash if there are opposite ideas?>> Supervon2 I don't know whose classroom you have been in lately, but the number one goal in my classroom is to teach kids to read and engage them as thinkers and discussion participants. If the number one goal was to remove any reference to conservatism, then you wouldn't see authors like Rand, Solzhenitsyn, and Orwell on my reading list--all on the Ronald Reagan Young America's Foundation list.

CAGarnerMay. 7, 13 6:21 AM

I've nothing against these kinds of courses. They have their place in the context of literature. However, I do wonder when -- if ever -- students do get exposed to the "canon". By the time these students get to college, they have no familiarity with, much less appreciation of, these works. By that time, it's probably too late. We can't expect college students to effectively engage with the classics if they are coming to them for the first time in a Lit 101 class or, worse, an elective literature class.

SnippetMay. 7, 13 6:39 AM

>>> More than 20 years ago, a small group of Minnesota high school English teachers asked Charles Sugnet, a professor in the English Department at the University of Minnesota, to help them introduce their students to fine writing by women and people of color, since such writers were virtually nonexistent at their schools. <<< Again, suspicion confirm. The PRIMARY goal is to enhance the self-esteem of certain groups. This is not in and of itself a bad goal, if it is in fact the case that certain groups have a self-esteem problem, but it is not what the study of literature should be about. It should be about familiarizing students with those works that have withstood the test of time, proven durably popular, and have become pillars of our culture. Picking texts for trendy political reasons demeans the whole enterprise.

lakeelmo99May. 7, 13 7:06 AM

How many English major graduates readily fluid in Chaucer are working as Starbuck's baristas? Those with intellectual capacity will find the classics. Those without we should be preparing to work in an increasingly competitive world.

mbauerleinMay. 7, 13 8:07 AM

There are several misleading statements in Professor Henderson's defense that should be noted. First, she says that I object to CIS literature because it "does not focus on the authors he believes students should read." No, I objected because CIS refuses to allow high school English courses to qualify for Introduction to Literature if they weigh their syllabus down with pre-20th century classics. I am not the one restricting the reading list, CIS is. I never said that students should not read the works on the existing reading list. Two, Professor Henderson says that CIS includes "books from the late 19th century and 20th century." Look at the list again. I count only three 19th-century works among the 80+ offered, one of them a short story and two from 1899. Three, Henderson says, "Bauerlein suggests that the motive for offering this diverse reading list is to inculcate students with a negative social critique of American society." But this is not my suggestion at all. it's the bald assertion from the sample syllabus of CIS Literature, which states, "Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism and other forms of bigotry are inherent in our culture." Nothing in Henderson's reply explains why such a sweeping and tendentious social judgment appears on an introductory literature course syllabus. The answer, obviously, is that CIS Literature has as one of its goals the inculcation of certain social attitudes. Professor Henderson adopts the perspective when she highlights one goal of the course: "Reading is a 'safe' way to interact with people historically deemed 'different' and who have been pushed to the side. CIS literature students have the opportunity to learn about worlds divergent from their own . . ." The obvious question to ask is whether a contemporary novel about racism or homophobia in America is more divergent from their own experience than is a 230-year-old poem about chimney sweepers. Finally, Professor Henderson's description of how high schools join the program manages to sidestep the issue of the power of the University to reward some and not others. She says that CIS Literature is a college course and high schools may sign up for it or not. But the lure of college credit is powerful, and to imply that pressure isn't involved is obtuse. Are there no Intro to Lit courses at UM that allow for the classics? As it stands, classics-oriented high schools have to adjust their curriculum in order to give students the bonus of college credit, even if the workload is just as rigorous. That's the problem with CIS Literature--not the version of the course as it stands, but the versions that the framework disallows. Mark Bauerlein


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