Chace begins with statistics:
...from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures)... In one generation... the numbers of those majoring in the humanities dropped from a total of 30 percent to ...less than 16 percent...
...during that same generation, business majors climbed from 14 percent to 22 percent. Despite last year’s debacle on Wall Street... students are still wagering that business jobs will be there when the economy recovers.The Problem: While many might argue that this is no big deal, students want more 'useful' majors. Chace laments that English is not perceived as useful, when in fact, critical reading enhances critical thinking, and English courses should be vehicles for writing instruction and improvement.
The Cause? He continues:
There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English... to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case... that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology... and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations... In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books.History of English instruction: Chase then describes the course of English study and the humanities:
...In this country and in England, the study of English literature began in the latter part of the 19th century as an exercise in the scientific pursuit of philological research, and... that literature was best understood as a product of language... a way of understanding the world...
...Studying English taught us how to write and think better, and to make articulate many of the inchoate impulses and confusions of our post-adolescent minds. We began to see, as we had not before, how such books could shape and refine our thinking.Where is English instruction going? Chace concludes with a somewhat depressing view of the future of the study of literature:
...The study of literature will then take on the profile now held, with moderate dignity, by the study of the classics, Greek and Latin. For those of us who care about literature and teaching, this is a depressing prospect, but not everyone will share the sense of loss...
This 'down-grading' in the perceived value of English Lit education is both depressing and unfortunate. It reminds me of Leo Lionni's Frederick:
Frederick is about a field mouse who unlike the others, does not collect acorns in the fall as they prepare for winter. Instead, Frederick writes poetry as he observes and appreciates the beauty of the world around him. Come winter, as the community sits eating their store of acorns and nuts, Frederick turns their long, boring, gray days into days of sunshine, warmth and beauty.
We need to infuse this love and appreciation of words as 'art' and 'communication' in our kids.
The problem as I see it is that whether in college, high school, middle school, grade school, or even preschool:
- English and language arts instruction must be meaningful while reinforcing communication skills. It should show where we come from and where we might and/or might not want to head with exposure to the classics and contemporary works - reflecting how time and culture have affected our thoughts.
- As our current world is showing us, majoring in economics is no longer enough to insure economic stability after college. Whether you appreciate 'literature' or not, a liberal arts education insures students of a well-rounded education - one that can be used to jump start careers integrating affinities and interests. We need to teach kids how to communicate through print, through text, and maybe even how to program / navigate computers yet another form of communication.
- to entertain;
- to model different ways to effectively and efficiently express ideas;
- to build vocabulary;
- to teach and reinforce grammar;
- reading and writing reflect cultural nuances and beliefs - reading books of different eras teaches us about those times and places;
- different writing styles, formats, and genres emphasize different strengths, messages, and perspectives.
There are just a few of the standards. Please visit the link above for more details.
- Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world...
- Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They [should] draw upon... prior experience... knowledge of word meaning and of other texts... word identification strategies, and ... understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language ... to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
The problem though, is that while these standards detail educational goals, they do not identify HOW the goals should be met. That is left to the individual teachers (which, as a teacher, I appreciate) but some do it better than others and there is often no continuity from one grade/year to another. This is one area where parents can easily get involved: supporting, enriching and reinforcing reading, writing, communicating - i.e. language use..and making sure kids GET WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM!HOW PARENTS AND TEACHERS CAN HELP:
- Expose your kids to diverse types of literature.
- Expose your kids to 'classics' from different time eras and authors from different cultures.
- Visit libraries, book stores, surf TOGETHER to find video versions or spoofs on favorite books and poems. EXPLORE the wide world of story together. Communicate! Share!
- Read books together. Talk about them:
- Talk about what is relevant to your lives.
- Talk about the author's choice of words, tone, and perspective.
- Talk about how believable the characters/settings are (or are not).
- Talk about what a sequel might look like.
- Talk about the author's use of prose and/or illustration to communicate a point.
- Compare and contrast one work to another of the same or different genre or time period.
- Evaluate how current events may have shaped an author's story and use of language.
- Write together:
- Make lists for each other.
- Leave notes on beds, refrigerators for each other.
- Make cards for all occasions (from letters to the Santa and the Tooth Fairy, to birthday cards and invitations)
- Write letters to magazine editors
- Blog together - write reviews of current events or favorite books; write two-voice poems; write about creative projects.
- Communicate with each other:
- Try to have dinner together a few times a week (at least) where you talk about current events, how your days went.
- Visit museums together - talk about the exhibits - what you liked and didn't like, it's design, how effectively (or ineffectively) it relayed information.
- See movies together and evaluate them. Talk about how well the characters were (or were not) developed, talk about the plot and story line (was it believable/), talk about the use of image, color and dialogue. Compare and contrast movies of similar genres/ time periods. Talk!
- Start or join book clubs (kid book clubs, parent-child book clubs)
What literacy promoting activities do you participate in with your child? What is available in your community? Let's keep this discussion going!
Here's to making literature come alive: