Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Purpose of English Class

A colleague of mine recently e-mailed the staff regarding the classes he teaches. It happens that I also teach the same subject, though at a different grade level. I asked him to allow an excerpt for general consumption from the edusphere. Here is the condensed version:
I've had both parents and students question the relevance of what I do as an English teacher, and I think the situation is getting worse. A typical argument goes something like this: "I can speak, write and read English just fine, so why do I have to take it for 4 years?" I think if we lost the touchy-feely-obvious names -- English, Creative Writing, Language Arts, etc. -- and used specific cognitive-type class descriptions, we would, like Lucille Ball, not have so much 'splainin' to do. Some examples: Argumentation, Logic & Language, Literature & Analysis, Concepts & Creativity, etc.

As an English teacher, of Pre-College English--if that really means anything, I'll admit to agreeing with the idea. In fact, I've always wondered, even throughout my school years, why I had to take English class. I do think it is time that we update a bit of our schooleese--the language of the school.

The truth is that English class as a title leaves the student wondering what exactly the subject will be. Sure, they know they will study writing, but not what type. They of course know they will have to read, but what exactly will they read. So after much thought, I have, in accordance with my colleagues proposal, developed my new Department of Literary Analysis & Written Communication.

9th Grade: Introduction to the Craft of Writing
Semester One/Quarter One--Basic Written Grammar (we've shelved this for far too long)
Semester One/Quarter Two--Structure of Writing
Semester Two/Quarter Three--Introduction to Literary Analysis: Summarize, Infer, Evaluate
Semester Two/Quarter Four--Introduction to Literary Writing

10th Grade: Understanding the Intellect of Language
Semester One/Quarter One--Intermediate Written Grammar
Semester One/Quarter Two--Writing for Enjoyment: Develop the Creative Technique
Semester Two/Quarter Three--Intermediate Literary Analysis: Evaluate and Critique
Semester Two/Quarter Four--Intermediate Literary Writing

11th Grade: Developing Logic in Written Communication
Semester One/Quarter One--Developing the Style Within
Semester One/Quarter Two--Advanced Literary Analysis: Connect and Respond
Semester Two/Quarter Three--Introduction to Logic
Semester Two/Quarter Four--Introduction to Argumentation

12th Grade: Writing For a Purpose
Semester One/Quarter One--Advanced Literary Analysis II: Transferring Literature to Life
Semester One/Quarter Two--Writing To Persuade: The Skill of Persuasive Writing
Semester Two/Quarter Three--Writing to Inform: The Craft of Journalistic Writing
Semester Two/Quarter Four--Writing to be Known: The Art of Personal Writing


At 6:47 PM , Blogger The Science Goddess said...

It's funny you should say this---as recently, I had to defend taking science courses to one of the English teachers I work with.

What I ended up trying to explain to him is that it's not the "what" of these classes which is important. Do you think when I have a situation in my daily life I stop and think about "Of Mice and Men" and ask myself "What would Lenny do?" Since when did Julius Caesar help me? All of our courses look ridiculous using that lens.

Personally, I don't use a lot of the math I learned in high school. What I did take away from those classes was a since of how to solve something step by not give up just because something is look at problems from different angles.

I think school should have a strong role in preparing kids for Life in the Real World. But it's unreasonable to expect that every single lesson's content will be used by every adult.

At 12:39 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Well thank you. Your presumption, depending on your age is more or less accurate. In that I've only been teaching for a year and half, I am young, but, as I am celebrating my 10 year high school reunion this summer, I am starting to feel, well, not so young.

At 9:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your ideas are intriguing to me and I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter.

At 2:26 AM , Blogger Lectrice said...

I usually broadly agree with most of your posts, but on this issue - I don't know. My experience tells different.

Part of the 'Literacy Strategy' in the UK was to take most of the Literature and Creative Writing foci out of English and replace it with a syllabus that demands endless repetitive practise of Writing to Argue, Writing to Explain, Writing to Inform, Writing to Persuade, Writing to Instruct (oh boy, that's a fascinating topic, there), and finallyl Writing to Describe.

It's gotten to the point where sixteen year olds in the English system have invariably never written a full story, never read a full book. But can write a powerpoint presentation and do what amount to office menial tasks with ease.
That, somehow, is Wrong; too far in the other direction.

Plus: changing the names of things, but not the content smells a little too strongly of Management Jargon to me.

At 12:31 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Changing the names, Letrice, will clearly not solve the problem. And I agree, too much emphasis on all of those "writing for" foci will inhibit our students elsewhere. The question then becomes, how do we make it all meaningful. In the U.S. we have the wonderful plan of No Child Left Behind (our media portrays the UK as ready to jump on anything G.W. does and make it negative, but No Child Left Behind was created in large part by Ted Kennedy, G.W. simply collaborated). NCLB dictates the standards, and we must meet them. Writing a story is not a major focus. Writing for this or that, is essential.

At 1:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will you teach me...?

At 12:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shakespeare destroyed English classes for me. I found no pleasure in reading so, when forced to read what seemed to me like foreign gobbledy-goop, it destroyed any interest in ever picking up a fiction book again.
I can now see the massive value in clear communication (which I do struggle with even to this day), but Shakespeare made things worse back then, not better. I'm sure those passionate about reading still find his books fascinating, but since I did not have such passion it was simply a step backwards and a permanent turn-off.

At 8:03 PM , Anonymous vicodin 5 500 mg dosage said...

it's definitely important, learning proper English is a must today, not the daily English we use..

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