Friday, January 6, 2012

What, Me Read?

A literature professor writes that his students exist in the fog of a post-literate world, by Thomas Bertonneau:
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series (to be published on Fridays). By analyzing the responses of his Survey of Literature students on their exams, Thomas F. Bertonneau, who teaches at SUNY-Oswego, offers insight into where education is failing today. The first essay sets the stage.

Since the mid-1980s, I have taught a standard survey of literature course to undergraduates in California, Michigan, and most recently upstate New York. This course introduces canonical texts, from Homer’s Odyssey to early medieval texts such as Beowulf or the Icelandic sagas, and sometimes later works. Over the years, my experience has chronicled what I believe to be a broad retreat from genuine literacy into a new, orally based “post-literacy” of emotion-drive mentality, egocentrism, “presentism,” and logical obtuseness. This retreat will have serious consequences for our society.

This three-part essay will describe my observations, based on the written responses of my students on exams. My course is a general education requirement that most students must take, usually in their freshman or sophomore year. Frequently, it serves as a prerequisite for other courses in English or the humanities, and where I currently teach, it is required for most education majors. In sum, this course offers a useful occasion for the general observation of undergraduates.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. I highly recommend all the books cited by Bertonneau. A better and more entertaining read from the same viewpoint can be found in Richard Mitchell's books and newsletters, free online here.

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