Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Erika Lindemann: Against using literature in the composition classroom


In her 1993 article, “Freshman Composition: No Place for Literature,” Erika Lindemann explores the role of literature in a first-year writing course and takes the position that literature ought to be excluded from such a course. Her primary reason for this exclusion is a lingering unanswered question, “What is the purpose of freshman composition?” Lindemann’s stance is that until this question is answered in such a way that literature is called for it should remain excluded. She includes additional reasons for this exclusion: 1) literature-based courses are focused on reading texts rather than producing them 2) literature is not necessary 3) studying literature does not teach academic style 4) teaching literature does not prepare students for graduate programs by providing teaching training.
In her follow-up article, “Three Views of English 101,” published two years later and after others entered the conversation, Lindemann again raises her primary concern, the lack of a unified, clearly defined, purpose for freshman composition course. She then turns to a simplified description of three writing pedagogies, proposing the pedagogical differences lie in whether the instructor views writing as a product, process, or system of social actions (p288-89). She describes the differences between these models, concluding that the use of literature is not necessary in any of them.
A significant message running through both of these articles is Lindemann’s own perception of what the freshman composition course ought to do. She sees the course as an opportunity for the students to enter into academic conversation, to prepare themselves for the type of discourse found in the academy. There is another significant point running through both articles; it is Lindemann’s perception that the only use for literature is for analysis—that all writing that stems from literature is about the literature.

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