Teaching Literature Is Possible
As I walked to class today (see picture), I was worried. Would the students understand the readings I assigned for today? Would they invest the effort needed to analyze difficult XIXth-century texts? Would they give up? Would they feel bored? Spanish costumbrismo of Larra and Estebanez Calderon is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. And the vocabulary is difficult. However, during the lecture, I realized that our students are a lot better prepared for hard-core literature courses than we expect. We had a really phenomenal discussion, and everybody participated. The class lasts from 5 to 8 pm, and it isn’t easy to keep everybody’s attention at that hour. But the response to the readings was great. We laughed so hard that the walls shook. I got every student in the course to select a text among our readings for the semester, and now they will conduct part of each class meeting where these texts are discussed. This way, students get to create their own activities, moderate discussions, and feel responsible for a text of their choosing. There are 23 students in this class. In theory, a literature seminar should be much smaller but I want a bigger group because I’m trying to prove that there is massive demand among our students for non-gimmicky literature courses with a mountain of complex readings and a lot of academic writing. Of course, I now know why there is such a push to teach language instead of literature. Teaching language is extremely easy after you’ve mastered it. The past tenses are not very likely to change dramatically within our lifetimes. A discussion of a literary text, however, will always go in a new and unpredictable direction.