May 8, 2007

Who steals the joy from reading?

My favorite lines from Timothy Burke's latest blog are at the end:

You can't get back to loving reading by cheerless attacks on whatever academic fashion annoys you. Love and pleasure require generosity. No miser will ever know them as they can be known.

On the other hand, while I suspect that's a sidelong swipe at a recent ACTA report, and even though that report deserves such swipes, I think Burke is subtly wrong. Yes, we sometimes fetishize exegesis and various forms of textual criticism. But I'm not sure that's a matter of what we teach (ACTA's focus) so much as how we teach.

There's also a difference between the environment in which Burke teaches (Swarthmore, one of the premier liberal-arts colleges) and where most faculty teach. When I took a sociology of education course from David Karens at Bryn Mawr (I was a student at Haverford), he assigned us six books plus a handful of articles for an undergraduate course. There, a full load was four courses. Where I teach, at a regional state university campus, the "full load" is five courses, and many students work far longer hours than my classmates 20+ years ago. If I tried to assign about six books' worth of material to undergraduates... well, let's just say I assign approximately three books' worth of reading material.

Ah, but Burke points out that it's quality that counts, not quantity? I suspect there's a minimum critical mass for the material to stick and start growing in interaction with student minds (quick quiz: who knows where the term apperceptive mass started from?).

No, I don't have solutions, just concerns and unresolved tensions.  Life between terms, I suppose.

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Posted in Higher education on May 8, 2007 9:45 PM |