deborah.dwj at deborah.dwj at
Tue Aug 24 09:01:16 EDT 2004

On Tue, 24 Aug 2004 Greeniegirl2 at wrote:
|Book discussions in school can really ruin it for me. I don't care what the
|theme of the chapter was or what the writer was abstractly trying to say. Argh!
|(Sorry a little frusterated-school just started-oh joy!)

*Sigh*.  Sounds like a bad teacher, to me.  I have multiple pedagogical
pet peeves.  One is teachers who try to get at "what the author was
trying to say", instead of at "a message that the book appears to be
conveying" (or, more technically, a seemingly explicit theme of the
text).  I understand that the former is easier to explain, but it always
alienates so many students -- and almost all of the students who
disagree with the teacher's idea of what that message is -- on the
grounds that nobody knows what the author was trying to say.  Even if
the author gave multiple interviews where he or she said exactly what
the intended message was, in order to use that the teacher must know
that the author was both (1) telling the truth and (2) aware of what he
or she was trying to say.  There are some interesting historical and
psychological schools of criticism that do try to get to the author's
intent might have been to shed light on social and historical context,
but that's not what your average English literature teacher is doing.

Also, finding of the theme of the chapter is all well and good (and, in
my opinion, can add to enjoyment of the reading), but not if you stop
there.  A good teacher should be seeing what critical and analytical
processes appeal to his or her students, and souping up the mix.  (It's
all well and good for me to say this, as I'm not the person with time
pressures and a curriculum which I've already designed.  But that's why
I feel like a good English teacher should have the training to mix in a
little bit of New Criticism (that's the theme stuff), a little bit of
Reader Response (getting to an analysis of the book which is reached in
common by the class by building on their reading experiences (which is
not to say "everything you thought about the book while you read it is
your analysis"), a little bit of the various social context criticisms
(Feminist, Postcolonial, Marxist, which all have such fascinating things
to say about Watership Down, of all books!) to help students see the
connection between old books and modern ideas... I could go on.

But then, I find talking about books wonderfully fun.  That's why I love
all of you. ;)

I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is
a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above
Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Uber Gletch. I go there
on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock
repaired. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around
and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange
people, and I get my ideas from them.  -- Dr. Seuss

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