In Kathleen Yancey’s first chapter of Teaching Literature as Reflective Practice, she shares five intriguing observations when it comes to the Gen. Ed. literature classroom. First and foremost, she argues that “the writing and reading tasks I assign in school aren’t the same kinds of reading and writing that students do outside of school. And what students do outside of class; it’s not making its way into my classroom either. This, I think, is a problem” (1). Although Yancey’s argument is understandable, is it necessary for all student reading/writing/ activities done outside of the classroom to be brought in? Arguably, one of the most beneficial skills students learn while in college is seeing and understanding new perspectives. If we only consider the students desires and preferences when it comes to learning, we may be taking away the entirety to which they can actually learn. In this light, one may qualify the pathway to student success in terms of how much they are challenged and to what extent they are taken out of their comfort zones while learning, rather than what a student is capable of within the sphere that they have already made for themselves. Although video games, Oprah’s Book Club, and Amazon.com’s Listmania have their place within students’ lives, I am not sure if they need to be reiterated into a college classroom where a student should be learning and participating in new methods instead of those they are already familiar with (2). Incorporating student interests and communities that they are already engaged in can be beneficial, however, limiting the spaces in which a student can learn to these specified elements could be dangerous.
Yancey’s fifth observation is another that yields complications. She notes that the “teaching of literature is slowly changing.” (3). Although this may be true, some of the examples that she gives appear hazardous to student success. Yancey provides us with Beverly Peterson’s suggestion of “inviting students to challenge the literary selections” (4). The general idea of allowing students to challenge a reading list for a class comes with a significant amount of variables that Yancey does not take account of. A graduate class of literature students may in fact benefit from challenging the reading list on a syllabus because it would allow them to engage with more than just an individual text, but an entire genre, time period or theory that they have already been given a foundation of. For example, a graduate seminar covering twentieth century British war fiction may easily swap out an Elizabeth Bowen text for a Virginia Woolf text because they have most likely already read some of Woolf, or are at least familiar with British authors in the twentieth century and can go from there. However, Yancey is not making this suggestion; she is focusing on Gen. Ed. literature classrooms, which arguably completely changes the idea of allowing students to challenge a reading list. A General Education class fits under the category of “Gen. Ed.” because it participates in allowing students to obtain a knowledge in a wide variety of fields before they move onto their more specified major. Thus, a student in a Gen. Ed. literature class, is not necessarily a Literature major, and therefore, will most likely not have the foundation in literature or skills required to challenge a literature reading list in a sufficient manner like a Literature graduate student would.
As a side note, I do agree with a generous portion of Yancey’s chapter. There does need to be a “role of play” in the classroom, as well as an incorporation of student reflection (3, 12). Web based tools can help us get there, along with “boundary-crossing” to help factor in students’ interests (8, 2). However, we must also consider the purpose of college institutions and the extent to which those outcomes can be made if we decide to stay within the student’s comfort zones.