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Gregg Camfield <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 12 Jun 1998 09:32:21 -0700
TEXT/PLAIN (65 lines)
        As the person who prompted the discussion about plot summaries, I
have to apologize for the brevity of my original remark.  I knew it would
not really explain my position, but I didn't have time to do more than
fire off a quick reply to the colleague who was concerned about which
editions to have his students buy.  He was concerned about exceeding the
maximum he was allowed to have his students spend per course, and I felt
that, in that context, he ought to reserve the student money for editions
rather than references, and leave the reference books for the library.

        I also suggested that Kent Rasmussen's synopses could get in the
way of pedagogy.  I was concerned about writing that, knowing my remarks
might suggest some condescension toward my students or a sanctimonious
concern that they would be cheating to pass classes.  That is not what I
meant to imply at all.  I'm really much more concerned about the
conditions of learning and what we implicitly, as well as explicitly

        Students today are grossly over-extended.  Between classes--each
of which is put together by a professor who thinks his or her course is
the center of the university if not the universe (I plead guilty as
charged!)--and a multitude of extracurricular functions, including
part-time (or even full-time) work to help pay for college, students are
stretched thin.  Such circumstances do teach them what to expect from the
work world, perhaps, but they are not conducive to loving learning for
learning's sake and do demand that students take short-cuts.  I simply
wanted to suggest that it may not be in a teacher's best interest to make
such short-cuts readily available under his or her SANCTION, because it
might suggest that such short-cuts ARE a viable alternative to reading
literature word by word.  After all, students are taught early to read
quickly and efficiently--that is to read for the central ideas, not for
the whole picture.  They are taught to see reading as a means to finding
information.  They are taught to summarize.  I think that in teaching
literature, we need to teach another way of reading, a way suitable to the
material at hand, a way unlike the way they are taught to read newspapers
and textbooks, etc.  I don't think it's a question of students not being
readers--they're bombarded with text even through the visual media that
often get the blame for "decreasing literacy" (which may be a canard, but
that's another topic).  What's different is how they're taught to read. (I
suppose I should say "we"--I'm plenty young enough to remember.  In eighth
grade, I was "rewarded" for my good work in my English class by being
taken out of the regular group, which was studying literature, and put in
a pilot speed-reading class.  We were deliberately discouraged from
reading word by word in favor of gleaning the "facts" from articles.  To
encourage a disregard for the rhythms and textures of language, we were
assigned dull articles written by someone with a tin ear.)

        I spend some time each class reading literature aloud--slowly,
with feeling.  I also spend some time each class having my students read
their own short essays on the literature they have read.  In so doing, I
ask them to HEAR their own language and register its impact on a living
audience, something they don't do in the papers they efficiently write and
never re-read after they hand them in to be graded.

        As for the utility of Kent Rasmussen's summaries, I confess that,
as much as I use _MTAZ_ almost every day, I never look at the summaries.
Yes, I would, I suppose, work more efficiently and make fewer mistakes if
I were to use those summaries as an index, but I find that the less
efficient use of my own memory is pleasurable.  It gives me a chance to
caress each work in my own mind and to reorder my mental index cards,
which tend to get jumbled when I don't use them often.  And I also find
lots of other useful things by serendipity.  Efficiency is a wonderful
American virtue, but it isn't everything.