The Truth Board

A Blog by the Editors of
The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Am I Doing This Again?

As a lifelong English major, my daily activities are quite monotone--read book, analyze book, write a paper about book, grade papers about book. I am currently a graduate teaching fellow, which means that I am experiencing a patch of life when I fulfill the dual role of both a student and a teacher. Don't get me wrong--I immensely enjoy what I do, but every now and then I have moments when I stop and ask myself "Why am I doing this?"

I started looking for answers to this question when I realized that I was not the only one looking for an answer. In fact, it all started with a class I took last semester where I decided to look for the origins and reasoning behind English Literature survey courses. The answers I found were interesting but not fully satisfactory--after examining piles of articles, books and syllabi, I cannot conclude when the first survey course was taught or what drives the decisions behind the survey courses. This work, however,led me to try to answer the bigger question which seems to be about Why are we studying what we are studying? What are we hoping to get out of literature? Why do we teach things the way we do?

As an English major in a family that prides itself with remarkable math abilities, I often have to explain my choice of wanting to be a professor of English. When I received an offer for a research assistantship, my first foray into the professional English-Major-Field, my mother, an engineer by training, expressed her happiness and asked, "Honey, what do you research in English? Do you write words on a piece of paper and then examine them closely?" I fully understand this type of questioning--as English majors, we don't seem to possess any special set of skills, unless you count careful reading and good writing. But everyone reads! Everyone writes! Some better than others, and you can't justify college tuition with "better" reading and "better" writing. I have never tried to market my skills as an English major to non-English major people (i.e. I have not tried to look for a job outside of schools), but I can detect difficulties.

Which brings me back to my earlier point--why are we studying and more importantly What exactly are we studying? Traditional answers that English Departments have had to use to justify themselves (and trust me, there has been a lot of justification) has been along the lines of better citizens, better communicators, better orators. How relevant are these answers to current students? I probably would find it easier to answer the WHY question for English majors, but how do you justify reading The Tempest to an Engineering major? "It's awesome, and you will be a better person for knowing it" does not always cut it, and trust me I have tried.

The only answer I have come up with so far and am currently trying to apply to my own work is that at the senior and graduate level we teach texts to make sure that professional English majors know as much about various texts as we can cram into their heads. At the freshman and sophomore level, and especially with core classes, we focus on making sure that our students can express themselves. The business major that walks to my class does not care about the Classical sources of Shakespeare, but she does care (or at least I hope she does) about being able to express herself in writing to her peers, to communicate effectively and to present herself on paper. I do not know if this is a satisfactory answer, but it's the only I have. I am not losing hope yet, but I am starting to think that there are no satisfactory answers to this topic--only working answers.

Lilly Berberyan
Executive Editor


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I I enjoy reading everything you've written, Thanks for directing me to BLOGGER

February 12, 2010 at 3:22 PM  

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