I’m changing my mind.
While designing a freshman comp class for my GTA application this spring break, I found myself conforming to the trend of avoiding literature in composition class, yet without any more conviction than I’ve ever had. While the evolution of the purpose of the English course has been explained to me as being the main and bureaucratic reason that English classes have once again abandoned literature for rhetoric, I haven’t to this day been exposed to any text that rationally disproves the usefulness of literature in composition classes.
The more I think about students attitudes towards literature, the more I’m convinced that by merely judging on the basis of interest, literature should be minimized in comp classes. Yet I am a fiction writer. I’m here with my bias and a hard-to-resist desire to share my passion for fiction in the given context. I am a fiction writer, which also goes to say that I’m an artist, and like all artists, I find myself concerned over the legacy of art that is being passed on to the next generation and the various political agendas that threaten that legacy. In brief, I worry that we are producing students who will be incapable of appreciating art in the conviction that it’s more important that students learn social criticism and learn to write with logic.
In a general consideration of the economic purpose of education, literature seems to fall short in providing “real world” skills. But is that true? Is reading expository essays to write expository essays so sensical that all other methods are comparatively mediocre if not useless?
Should we be so gung-ho about equipping our students with social awareness and a sense of logic to process and articulate it all, even at the expense of art for the sake or art and beauty for the sake of appreciation? Are we okay with producing artistic-philistines? Let’s face it, only students who are artistically inclined and interested study art ( that is if they don’t feel economically pressured to study something “practical”) and the art section of the general education system disregards the need to teach students to think artistcally.
I’m just saying, critical thinking should be counter-balanced with artistic thinking and our system is deficient in that aspect of education.
What do students need to learn and what’s the best way to teach it?
In Literature in the Composition class: The Case Against, Francis and Barbara Linde contend that literature fails to provide what the students need–learning the academic discourse because it is by imitation that students adopt discourses and literature is not of the expository style that the students need to practice and neither is it a globally useful discourse.
Gary Tate, In A Place for Literature in Freshman Composition, gives three reasons that explain the obsoleteness of literature in comp classes: “the pedagogical sins of teachers in the past, the revival of rhetoric, and changing attitudes about the purposes and goals of freshman composition.” He re-buts each of those reasons with 1) English was then taught by lit professors who only knew how to teach that 2) the overzealous “rhetoric police” was eager to enforce rhetoric and rhetoric being a ready substitute, lit lost despite the possibility of correcting instruction 3) with so much emphasis on academic discourse, we are close to turning English as a “service course”, one whose purpose is to cater to the other disciplines.
Tate asks, did we give up too much when we surrendered to the Rhetoric Police. He says we definitely lost some words like imagination and style. “To assume, as many seem to do, that inventive procedures or the plotting of cognitive strategies do more than scratch the surface of the human mind thinking and imagining is to trivialize the creative act of composing. And to ignore the study of style as just another of the many misguided concerns of current-traditionalists (lips curled, again), is to deprive our students of the linguistic possibilities that just might elevate their prose above mediocrity, to use another unpopular word.”