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Letters to the Editor

BY DI READERS | DECEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Re: Teach lit in black and white

I teach the Intro to the English Major in which Ashley Lee is enrolled. Its great theme is interpretation: how language’s multiple meanings are the grounds for rich readings and a variety of critical perspectives.

This course covers foundations of interpretation and 1,000 years of literary history. My department attempts this in one semester to free students from the standard four-semester survey for a more richly varied major. Ms. Lee complains that the class is “overwhelmingly British- and American-based” and “almost exclusively Western and European.” This is largely true; the syllabus features fewer women and non-white than male and white writers, a function of its whirlwind tour and the historical privilege and oppression to which it testifies.

Ms. Lee then aligns the course with a culture that is “committed to valuing whiteness,” in which “white literature is glorified.” It’’s that interpretation I take issue with.

Intro students read The Tempest, questioning racialized portrayals of Caliban. We read Olaudah Equiano’s harrowing narrative of enslavement and eventual freedom. We read contemporary writers from India, South Africa, Ireland, and Canada. We track social ills — misogyny, colonization, child labor — and ways literature compounds or challenges them. While only 12 percent of writers on the syllabus are non-white/English/American, this course approaches English literature with a critical awareness of its problems and of writers’ attempts both to overcome injustice and to live more fully through art.

This is not glorifying whiteness or white literature. This glorifies reading critically and humanely the inspiring alongside the maddening, the hopeful with the grim.

8:005 is “the Gateway course”: a portal to a multifaceted discipline. Its doors open onto race, class, and gender, political, and post-secular perspectives. I’m proud of the class that opens those doors and the courses on the other side.

Lori Branch
Associate Professor, English

Re: Iowa tutoring works to remain helpful

Students should receive assistance the instant they identify a problem understanding class materials/discussions. The first strategy is to ask the faculty member for help; they can also consult their peers. Some students will need ongoing tutoring, which should start at the beginning of the term. Waiting until before a mid-term or final exam is futile.

Some students, for one reason or another, do not take advantage of tutoring. This is a mistake. “Grade obsessed” students should concentrate more on their critical thinking than a letter grade. Tutoring helps enormously in this aspect. University students have a responsibility to seek help on their own. However, it is also the duty of faculty to identify those students who need extra help.

Osvaldo Francisco Diaz-Duque


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