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Corrigan, Paul. “Conclusion to Literature.” TETYC Sept. 2018. Posted 11/06/2018.

Corrigan, Paul T. “Conclusion to Literature.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46.1 (2018): 30-48. Print.

Paul T. Corrigan argues for a reassessment of the value and purpose of the “Introduction to Literature” course that is part of the general-education curriculum at many higher-learning institutions.

Corrigan expresses concern that the understanding of many humanities scholars and teachers that reading “literature” is an important life activity is not widely shared by the public (30). Corrigan locates twenty-four “apologias” for literature published since 2000 that argue that such texts “may help us change or understand or give meaning or perspective to our lives” (30), but notes that only people already convinced of the value of literature will read these books (31). His study of “nineteen current anthologies and eighty-two available syllabi” for the introductory college course indicates to him that students taking the course are not widely encouraged to appreciate literature as an activity that will bring meaning into their lives (31, 37).

In Corrigan’s view, students taking the college course have already been introduced to literature, and in fact have been widely exposed to such reading, throughout their elementary and high-school experiences (37). Because, for many, “Introduction to Literature” is actually the last literature course the majority of students will take, Corrigan argues that the standard course is a “conclusion” to literature rather than a beginning (37).

Introduction to Literature, he maintains, is both among “the most commonly taught” and “most commonly taken” college courses across institutions (32). For Corrigan, that so many students take this course makes it a powerful platform for helping students see the value of literature; students who will then leave college with a positive impression of literature will far outnumber those who go on from the course to become majors and can influence public perception of humanistic learning throughout their lives (32).

To make the introductory course fulfill this purpose, Corrigan proposes shifting the focus from an preponderant review of the “means” of reading literature, such a formal elements of analysis and criticism, to attention to the “ends” of such reading (34), that is, the “why” of reading, or in the words of M. Elizabeth Sargent, “For what?” Teachers of literature, Sargent contends, should have “at least one thoughtful, evolving committed answer to this question” (qtd. in Corrigan 33).

Corrigan acknowledges that his sample permits only an “indirect peek” into the presentation of the ends of literary instruction, but characterizes his findings as “highly suggestive and instructive” (34). His analysis of the anthologies and syllabi categorizes the sample using four terms.

Materials in which attention to the ends/why issue does not appear at all fall under the classification “absent.” He gives as an example an anthology that responds to the question “Who needs it [poetry]?” with the comment that the “study of poetry” is the collection’s aim (qtd. in Corrigan 34-35; emendation in Corrigan; emphasis original). A syllabus in this category suggests that “‘an appreciation of literature’ may benefit ‘civilization’” and states that what a student will take from the class is “up to you” (qtd. in Corrigan 35). Twenty-one percent of the anthologies and 51% of the syllabi fell into this group (34).

Materials containing “nascent” references to the reason for reading literature made up 47% of the anthologies and 37% of the syllabi. These materials included short discussions or mentions of the value of literature, such as “a few paragraphs” in introductory sections or specific but short statements in course goals (35).

Corrigan placed materials in which “the question of why literature matters [is] one significant topic among others, although not a pervasive or central concern” in his category of “present” (35). Twenty-six percent (5 of the 19) anthologies met this criterion, and 10% (8 of 82) of the syllabi did so (35). Corrigan gives examples of how these teaching artifacts explicitly invited students to connect their reading experience to their lives (35-36).

Only a single anthology and two syllabi fell into the final category, “emphasized” (36). Corrigan delineates how Literature for Life, by X. J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia, and Nina Revoyr, “foreground[s]” the purpose of reading literature as a principal focus of the text (36). A syllabus from Western Michigan University builds connections to students’ lives into its course theme of “literary representations of food” with specific assignments asking students to address the topic in their own experiences (36).

In Corrigan’s view, recognizing that a college Introduction to Literature is more likely to be the “last time [most students] will spend any serious time thinking about literature” warrants recasting the course as “Conclusion to Literature” (37). He argues that the technical disciplinary processes of literary study can still be incorporated but should be used to enhance students’ ability to relate to and connect with the texts they read (40); he maintains that using the course to develop students’ ability to value literature will equip them with more incentive to read and value it in the future “than any amount of knowledge could provide” (38).

Quoting Karen Manarin et al., Corrigan agrees that “merely telling” students how literature matters is insufficient; he calls for pedagogy actively designed to draw out applications to students’ lives. His overview of his own course includes examples of assignments, paper prompts, and activities such as visiting nature centers in conjunction with reading nature poems (39). Writing that teachers may take for granted the importance of the “ends” of literature, he argues that re-seeing the introductory course as a conclusion “attends to, rather than assumes, those ends” (38).

 


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Choo, Suzanne S. Cosmopolitan Literature Education in Singapore. RTE, May 2016. Posted 08/31/2016.

Choo, Suzanne S. “Fostering the Hospitable Imagination through Cosmopolitan Pedagogies: Reenvisioning Literature Education in Singapore.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 400-21. Print.

Suzanne S. Choo, an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, advocates for “literature education” as a means of fostering “ethical cosmopolitanism” in students as a response to increasing pressures from globalization.

Choo documents a decline in the perceived value of literature in the United States and the United Kingdom as fewer students enroll in the subject (401, 418n1) and attributes a similar decline in Singapore to a number of factors tied to economic incentives that favor science, technology, engineering, and math (401). Choo argues that debates over the value of literature provide a chance to “reenvision the teaching of English literature” to highlight its power to offset tensions created by globalization (401).

Choo finds the state of English-language literature instruction in Singapore instructive because of the city’s colonial history and its implementation, beginning in the late 1980s, of a “national literature curriculum” (403) leading to national examinations on prescribed literary texts and practices. Examining the place of literature education as a part of Singapore’s response to globalization alongside classroom practices that may counter these top-level policies provides what Choo, following F. Vavrus and L. Bartlett, describes as a “multilevel vertical case study analysis” (405). Such an analysis, in Choo’s view, allows researchers to “contextualiz[e] local school practices within pressures occurring at the national levels, as these are in turn influenced by global forces” (405).

Choo and colleagues examined 1,593 questions from the national literature exam, coding them according to “question type” and “question content.” Types included questions addressing “plot, character, setting and atmosphere, style, and theme” (406). The researchers considered three levels of content: whether the questions measured “interpretation”; “aesthetic analysis”; or

students’ capacity to evaluate the text’s stylistic representation of others and the ideological values it contains, as well as their capacity to connect the text to the real world in order to engage with its ethical concerns (ethical evaluation and engagement). 406

Choo’s study, over a six-month period, gathered data from “six to eight classroom observations” and “one-hour pre- and post-observation interviews” (406). Four teachers from two “integrated program schools” participated. These schools were “high-performing,” with populations composed of “the top 20%” of scorers on a high-stakes exam (407). Teachers in such schools, Choo contends, have more freedom to design the kinds of assignments that serve needs other than those dictated by national economic interests (407).

To examine the national literature curriculum, Choo advocates for a “cosmopolitan” ethos, but distinguishes between two kinds of cosmopolitanism. Strategic cosmopolitanism focuses on the economic gains associated with global connectedness and the creation of a “skilled labor force” (408) and is “nation-centric,” concerned above all with a state’s competitiveness in global markets (402). In such a view, education is seen as an economic “investment” (403). In contrast, ethical cosmopolitanism promotes a sense of relatedness among diverse peoples and is “other-centric,” valuing the well-being of all as world citizens (403).

Central to the ethical cosmopolitanism that Choo supports is the development of what Jacques Derrida called a “hospitable imagination,” which enables “openness to others without conditions” (404). Choo argues that the study of literature can encourage this ability to see through the “lens of others” (405).

She reports that an interest in English education arrived with the desire of the colonial government to inculcate British cultural values in Singapore’s citizens (407). After independence in 1965, literature was devalued in favor of English-language education, which was seen as a necessary tool in Singapore’s efforts to depict itself as a player in the global economy (407-08). By the 1980s, however, the “creative industries” began to be seen as important in Singapore’s economy, and teaching “aesthetic sensitivity” became a means of ensuring both cultural and symbolic capital, as students were required to demonstrate both the ability to discern aesthetic value and a familiarity with the canonical texts of Western culture (408-09).

Literature education in this climate focused increasingly on detailed studies of the style of certain prescribed texts and authors like Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. National exam questions dealing with students’ ethical engagement with texts disappeared in favor of “[p]assage-based questions” that required students to show their knowledge of the texts (409). In Choo’s view, this pedagogy is “grounded on New Criticism’s adherence to an isolationist approach . . . in which students remain in the lifeworld of the plot, character, and language of the fictional text” (411).

Curricula designed by the four teachers disrupted this isolationist approach by

  • having students read a canonical text like Animal Farm alongside a modern text like N. H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabul, which depicts the life of Afghan asylum seekers in the post-9/11 United States. This comparison foregrounds how Animal Farm can be linked to issues of “discrimination and bias” (“Tanya,” qtd. in Choo 412).
  • disrupting views of culture as fixed to ethnicity, history, or place by assigning authors like Amy Tan and Jamaica Kincaid, who write about their experiences with cultural “displacement, clashes, and mixing” (413). This curriculum encourages students to examine ties to local communities while opening themselves to “affinity with multiple others” with whom aspects of a fluid cultural identity may be shared (413).
  • challenging stereotypes by having students read the required text, Frankenstein, alongside a short story, “The Moon above His Head,” by Yann Martel, which raises questions, both textually and extra-textually, about how representation, for example in media, affects perceptions of others (415). This approach opens discussion about how others can be ethically depicted and how students’ own perceptions develop by “the continual destabilizing of fixed interpretations of the other” (417).

In Choo’s view, these teachers’ work in supplementing required training in aesthetic appreciation with ethically rich literary exploration demonstrates that “literature education powerfully mediates encounters with foreign, exiled, and alienated others” to “propel an appreciation of collective humanity” (418). This appreciation, she argues, can counter the instrumental force of strategic cosmopolitanism and is uniquely available through the literature classroom.