Can The Hunger Games series be considered literature? How about Harry Potter or Stephanie Meyers’ teenage vampire saga? How about The Lord of the Rings? In an era of not declining, but lost readership, can teachers of literature afford to draw these lines of distinction, and hasn’t literature always consisted of what the people of that specific time period agree to acquire and read? Elaine Showalter, in Teaching Literature, attempts to answer this question, not by drawing lines between what is traditionally understood to be literature and what others refuse to accept as such, but through referring to the primary objectives reached while teaching students how to pull apart a text.
“[L]iteral and metaphoric meaning…cultural assumptions…[and]…cultural references” and the ability to “think creatively” Showalter lists as the benefits of teaching an objective-based literature course focusing on Robert Scholes’ “craft of reading” pedagogical philosophy (26). While Showalter covers the many teaching philosophies, from Conflict to Teacher-and Student-Centered, she fails to mention the brain conditioning that reading accomplishes, the simple placing together of words and phrases to create abstract meaning that is the basis of the human animal’s reading ability. The need to continually hone this skill has the tendency to become lost in the debate as to how and why we read the work of other human beings from other eras.
One must not be fooled into believing, even with the decline in interest in the humanities, that the debate over why one teaches literature is new. And, as humans are such political animals, always ready to dissect what is in front of them, whether consciously or not, teaching from political and intellectual standpoints will always spark interest and possible controversy. Teaching literature, if not to a classroom full of future literature professors, will always on some level be about fostering the ability to grow an open mind, an objective without a clear blueprint.
Showalter, Elaine. Teaching Literature. Indianapolis: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. Print.