Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Subtle yet Important Difference

In his seminal book The Secret Cause: A Discussion of Tragedy, Dr. Normand Berlin (my professor for Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst many years ago and best teacher I've ever had) makes a subtle yet important point in the preface. He thanks his students who were "prodded by themselves or by me to state exactly how they felt, rather than how they were supposed to feel, while reading and after reading" works of literature.

This should raise a question for all of us who are in the education field: are we trying to bring out the opinions and feelings of our students or are we furnishing them with what the work is supposed to be about?

I was shocked a number of years ago when after asking students what a possible theme of a piece of literature might be, a very intelligent young woman told me that her teachers had always told her what the themes of stories were and she didn't know she could discover them on her own. Many of the other students agreed. A sad commentary on our educational system and something to keep in mind as we plan our lessons for the fall.

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