Saturday, April 18, 2015

Interesting Comment

I got an interesting (though Anonymous!) comment on an old post, Working Up Reading Lists, and though I started to respond to it there, I found I had so much to say, that I decided to respond it it in an actual blog post instead.

Here's the comment:

Every time you post about the books/classes that you're teaching, I wish I has had a professor like you. 
Given the choice between studying Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the 13th time versus actually getting to discuss Joanna Russ or George Orwell, there's no contest.

Given the classes required to graduate all have titles like English Drama (nothing but Shakespeare), English Fiction (nothing but Shakespeare), Study of a Single Author (choice of Shakespeare or Desiderius Erasmus), ect, You seem to have so much freedom in the choice of what to teach and how to teach it.

And my answer:

Thank you!  And yes!

We've really designed a pretty good program here, you're right.

Partly that's because we're a very new university -- we've only been a university since 2003 -- which means we've had the chance to build ourselves from the ground up.  I was part of this construction process, one of the professors who built the very earliest English curriculum for the department.  We looked at English departments all over the country, and basically kept what looked it would work best for ours.

Mostly, though, it's because we've got a really good faculty, good at working together, good at thinking and making decisions; and we've gotten really lucky with our Chairs, who have also been excellent at their jobs.

The curriculum is a work in progress.  We're always messing with it.  For instance, the Working Class lit class I'm teaching in Fall 2015 is possible because we created a class about six years ago called Literature of Diverse Cultures.  We built this out of a need to fill the gaps in our students' knowledge of various literatures -- to wit, these students weren't doing well on Praxis exams, and on the GRE, and so on, which showed us they didn't have a grasp on the kinds of literature they needed to know.

So we made this box, this bin course, which we could use to teach whatever sort of course we needed, which would let students read works from various cultures.

That's not all we did, obviously!  We had been requiring Chaucer and Shakespeare; we added a Major Authors course which students could take instead of one of those, or along with one of those.  Major Authors can be any Major Author, from Toni Morrison to Laura Ingalls Wilder to John Steinbeck to (some day I hope) George Eliot.  I taught Octavia Butler as a Major Author several semesters ago.

We created a YA class.  We have an Introduction to Cultural Studies class.  We got rid of the four surveys in American and Brit lit, and added Global Lit and American Lit instead.  Lots of revisions like that.

And we have just added a Popular Literature class, aimed not just at English majors, but at all the university.  That's the one I'm teaching as Utopian/Dystopian Literature this Fall.

Among other things, this way of handling the curriculum allows us to respond more organically to what our students require.

But also, obviously, it's a great deal more interesting, for both students and the professors.

And you know what: there's nothing wrong with that.

(Image: UAFS as a Utopian Space.  Because I amuse myself.)

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