Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moving Beyond Lindemann v Tate: Situating literature in the composition classroom

Recent work using literature in the composition classroom refreshed my interest in three questions:

  • why does an emotional novel help students think analytically? 
  • how could the reading and analysis of literature be used to generate critical thinking? 
  • what work has already been done in this area?

In the 1990’s, Erika Lindemann and Gary Tate began a conversation regarding the use of literature in the composition classroom; the conversation dominated and defined much of the dialogue on the subject. While the ongoing debate drew attention to and interest in the use of literature in the English classroom, the debate also bifurcated the topic thus inhibiting conversation and ultimately causing stagnation. As a result of the stagnation, essential areas were not explored. One area not touched upon was an analysis of how fiction differs from non-fiction, especially in how it impacts the reader. Underlying this untouched area is the assumption that all literature “works” the same way. This assumption is incorrect. Another significant flaw, related to the one above, is that the only use for fiction is critical analysis, that all writing generated by fiction is critical discussion of the work. This assumption is also incorrect. These assumptions created significant flaws in the 1990’s literature debate. However, identifying these flaws creates an opportunity to explore beyond the original conversation points and move in a direction that may encourage instructors to reconsider the uses of literature in the composition classroom.

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