Creating a Curriculum For Change

Author of the forthcoming Virtue, Passion, and Moderation in Shakespearean Drama and numerous articles, Unhae Langis teaches at Slippery Rock University near Pittsburgh, PA. She is presently working on a book on Shakespeare and happiness.

At my school, I teach English 210 – a general education course required for graduation. Formally, its objectives are to teach students how to interpret literature, support their interpretations with textual evidence, and to come to appreciate and enjoy the role of literature in their lives.

 

My course puts a special focus on bridging literature and life, books (from Latin liber) and the aim of liberal studies. In the words of educator Edward Beckham: “to liberate us unto ourselves, to liberate us from oppression and privilege, from unexamined assumptions, from passivity in the living of our lives.”[1]

 

I try to get my students to see that literature can enlighten and empower them in their personal and civil lives and deliver them from the brutality that often breeds from ignorance.

 

Most students enter the class thinking that nothing could be more remote from their here-and-now existence than “literature”— that the class will involve some dusty “classics” that couldn’t possibly relate to the 21st century world and the day-to-day experience. The key is involving students—many of whom would characterize themselves as non-readers and some as never even having read a novel—by choosing certain texts.  As student Shane Boydell puts it: “[It is] attention-grabbing reading, not the boring put-me-to-sleep kind that schools make you read as a curriculum.”

Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation provides the framework for examining human actions in life and in literature: human beings are driven by three tiers of motivators: survival (safety and physical sustenance), social success (belonging and esteem), and transformation (self-actualization).

 

During the semester, we explore these through stories, essays, poems, and plays. We read how literature is a reflection and dramatization of the very struggles we encounter in our own lives. Literature, as Professor Alex Macleod states, is a way for us to “compare notes on how others have approached and experienced the challenge of human life—the potentialities, hopes, frustrations, joys, and sorrows.”

Course participants hone critical thinking skills, self-expression tactics and obtain an increased awareness of how literature expands a person.

 

Brody Travers: [L]iterature is important because it allows us to learn about other ideas than our own or those of the people immediately around us. Without new thoughts and fresh ideas, we would never have stimulus for change or growth. Part of growing into a mature adult or developing a personal identity is experiencing many different points of view and deciding which you feel represent you best and which you want to be known by.

 

Fallon Kosinski: I’ve become more energetic and more driven to accomplish my goals….  I most definitely want to fulfill my potential. I think the literature we read in class formed my desire to flourish in life. 

 

Nathan Rihely: I’ll admit, I did not believe that I would grow as a person just by taking this course. I felt as though it was just another English course and that I would be able to get by, just by going through the motions. However, I felt the need to be involved. Literature doesn’t offer technical knowledge to further yourself in career goals, but it can aid you towards valuable self-knowledge about how to lead a more meaningful life. Interpreting literature isn’t about the story between the front and back cover; it’s about the story beyond the cover of the book or play.

 

Chris Penco: I am more in touch with my emotions than I can remember, and most of all I feel my moral code is at an all time high.  I try to keep an open mind about every situation that is thrown my way.  Keeping all options open, I feel it gives me the best opportunity to accurately assess the situation and make the right decision, for the right reason, for the right end, [Aristotelian ethics that I taught in reference to the literature] and doing the right thing when no one’s watching [citing one of our texts, Topdog/Underdog]. I will do everything within my power (and beyond) to leave this world a better place than it was. I will not be part of the problem.

 

 


[1] I am indebted to Provost William Williams for this reference.

 

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3 thoughts on “Creating a Curriculum For Change

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on the Wordpress.Com Book Bloggers! « Randomize ME

  2. For this assignment I read the blog posted by Unhae Langis from November 17, 2010. Ms. Langis is a professor at Slippery Rock University and her blog was entitled: Creating a Curriculum For Change. She begins her blog by informing the reader that she is an English literature teacher who puts special focus on bridging literature and life. Her course is a requirement for graduation and her objective in the course is to teach her students how to interpret literature, to support their interpretations with textual evidence, and to gain a deeper appreciation of the role literature plays in their lives. Langis (2010) stated, “I try to get my students to see that literature can enlighten and empower them in their personal and civil lives and deliver them from the brutality that often breeds ignorance.” (p.1) This theme goes hand in hand with the contemplative practices that we have been learning about in our EDU 525 class. It alludes to the concept of empathy and the idea of mapping your life onto the narrative of the literature the student is reading. This in turn allows for the development for deep reading and understanding and contributes to the building of literacy.
    Ms. Langis discusses the three tiers of human actions in life and in literature discussed in Maslow’s theory of human motivation: survival; social success; and transformation. This coincides with the concepts of community and self-reflection that have been discussed in our EDU 525 class. Very much as we have been learning about mapping our lives onto a literary narrative, her students are using literature to come to a similar understanding. Langis has stated, “We read how literature is a reflection and dramatization of the very struggles we encounter in our own lives.” (p.1) Her students are attempting to reach the same goal as our class. This goal is to understand ourselves better by equating our experiences to the characters in the literature we read. We are all learning how literature can expand us as people and lead us to self-reflection.
    Ms. Langis finishes her posting by quoting four of her students and their reactions to the class and its goals. These students all saw the benefits of this type of literacy learning and have stated that they have grown as people as a result of the class. Like the members of our class, the students in Ms. Langis’ class have learned that the affective domain is just as powerful and important as the cognitive. We have all been shown how to use our emotions to feel empathy for the characters we read about and by extension to feel empathy for humanity. We have been taken beyond the scope of our own relatively insignificant lives and shown that we are part of a much larger community. The feelings, emotions, problems, and successes we have are not unique. Other people also share in these same issues. It allows us to understand that we are not alone, and gives us the chance to help improve the human condition. Regardless of race, religion, and culture, all people face and grapple with very similar issues in life. Through deep reading and discussion we can better understand our own nature and we can use this knowledge to effect change in our own lives and in society as a whole. By understanding how others feel and react to similar problems, we can come to know ourselves better.

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