Seizing the moment: the case of English literature studies
With the advent of the National Curriculum,
it is timely to consider that no school subject has generated more heat and
heated debate over the years than school subject English. What might be involved then, in seizing the
moment, as the conference suggests? While much of the debate has been about
matters such as the values of teaching grammar, or the claims of genre theory
in teaching writing, another area of disagreement has been the study of English
literature. Here, while there have been arguments over the rival claims of the
literary canon and of popular culture, there have also been arguments over what
is involved in responding to and evaluating literary texts. A strong argument
has often been advanced over the years regarding the need to encourage students
to develop "their own" responses to literature in reasonably unfettered ways. This paper will consider the teaching and
learning of English literary studies (ELS). Drawing on both Bernstein (2000)
and Maton's work on knowledge and knower codes, I shall argue that in learning
to respond to literary texts students are apprenticed into ways of
interpreting, evaluating and responding to literary texts, where considerable
constraints actually apply. In fact students must learn to adopt the desired
"gaze" in responding to literature, displaying capacity to establish symbolic
meanings by reference to literary texts and demonstrating facility in
expression of abstract ideas. My object will be to uncover what is involved in
developing such facility, so that we can
indeed "seize the moment" in terms of teaching English
Bernstein, B. (2000) (2nd.
Ed.) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and
Identity. Theory,Research, Critique.
Rowman and Littlefield: Boston and Oxford.
Maton, K., Hood, D. and
Shay, S. (Eds.) in press) Knowledge
Building: Educational Studies in Legitimation Code Theory. Routledge.