Why am I passionate about the English discipline?


A colleague on staff has just written to us, partly as follows:

As you may or may not be aware, our Year Ten RaVE syllabus includes a fairly extended unit on Theory of Knowledge (Epistemology). All of us deal, in one way or another, with knowledge of one sort or another. All of us, in my experience, are passionate about the subject(s) we teach – indeed I think we all see that passion as a prerequisite for good teaching. In attempting to improve the boys understanding, I would like to put together a short anthology of comments about that passion. I am asking if any members of staff from any departments would be prepared to write, say, 250 words on why they are so passionate about their subject. It would be very useful indeed if the piece mentioned what you believe to be the essence of the subject about which you are passionate.

Here’s my response, influenced in part by many wonderful discussions on this kind of theme on the EC Ning over the past 6 months:

There are two related essential aspects of the English discipline.

The first is its contribution to our knowledge of the world; we come to understand, through many different kinds of literature, dimensions of the human experience which the other disciplines don’t touch on in quite the same way. When we read a novel or a poem or certain kinds of non-fiction, we come to understand both that our own internal worlds and life experiences are a part of a shared human experience, and paradoxically that the world is made up of people with different perspectives and dilemmas. Literature is a lens through which we can see aspects of the world more clearly.

The second is that we learn better how to read and write, and with any luck we increase the pleasure students experience in their reading and writing. Each of these two terms (‘reading’ and ‘writing’) is defined more broadly than it was 50 years ago, so that reading now includes our searching for meaning in films, images, websites and the news media (for example), and writing includes the ability express ourselves in non-traditional ways, such as through multimedia presentations, digital narratives and the like. Nevertheless, reading and writing still retain at their essence the ability to receive others’ thoughts and perspectives (read) and to explore and express our own (write).

There are two related questions which underpin the English discipline: Why do we value certain texts? To what extent is meaning determined by the author, embedded in the text, or created by the reader?

Why am I passionate about this? Because the kinds of reading and writing we do within the English discipline contribute to a greater love and understanding of the true, the good, the beautiful and the just.

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