Serving students and faculty since 1971

So, lots of people don’t like reading, for various reasons. After a while, I started trying to put myself in their shoes.

It could be the degree of relevancy the texts have to students’ lives (which could be very little, depending on the amount of discussion).

It could be the pace at which people go through reading texts in classes (the less time people spend thinking about what they’ve read, the fewer chances they’ll have of getting something out of it).

It could be that there are things missing from discussion, like understanding the contexts in which texts are written.

And it could be that in English literature classes, more so high school than college, we read too much about and from dead white men.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that this is English we’re talking about here, and that with a language and its history comes the culture in which the language has developed, with both white men and women writing about their time periods for many reasons.

Nor should any writer be singled out for their race by itself, because that’s just racist, and therefore unfair to what’s going on in the person’s mind.

I’m simply arguing for a consideration of the context in which people are reading today, and how this affects people’s thought processes in approaching world issues and their degree of relevancy in a literary context.

We live in a country founded on democracy— I would quote one of my professors as saying, “We live in a country of immigrants”. And really, we do. Our founding fathers were colonists. We experienced waves of Irish, and German, and Italian, and Jewish, and Mexican immigrants. And many others, of many different backgrounds, for many different reasons. This is the place most famed for being a country of diversity, where people come from all around the globe.

And it is here, in our mixture of world cultures, that we learn can learn about other worlds within the one we live in.

I know that part of the reason why I had difficulty reading about what is held as conventional literature is because it was only writing about one kind of world, and it was not one with which I could heavily identify. I figure that other people who recognize their other cultures may have a similar problem, and because their cultures might have more difficulty being seen as validated in the realms of literature, or because they may have difficulty seeing how these texts are relevant to them even today, they may turn away from the field out of a lack of interest.

More recently in this wide span of history, we are also producing generations in which people are more aware of the world. This is largely in part due to many people having access to the Internet. We may spend a large amount of time being its consumers, especially in terms of accessing social media, but now people have access to what people are putting online around the world. And that is something to account for.

And while this may be more recent with the Internet’s development, this has happened before, where authors have been read and translated in countries other than where they are from. We still see this today.

I also do not intend to speak as if we don’t have many of these classes. At U of M– Flint, for example, we have a multicultural literature class listed as an English course. This is an advancement. We also have literature courses in other departments, but that’s the thing—they’re in other departments. They are generally associated more with the departments which focus on these cultures.

And while they shouldn’t be removed as part of their programs, they’re still separated to a degree from English-related courses, when they are taught in English as well and the works are in English. Not many English majors take part in these unless it is purely out of interest.

And while they might not necessarily be required, it’s important to consider just how many English majors walk away from this university with a diploma comprised of mostly white literature where the requirements are concerned—with the idea in mind that many will be teaching in schools where there are students of and from a wider array of cultures.

America being a major representation of the concept of us living in a global world, where cultures interact and interconnect even though they may seem isolated by borders, it is time that we remove these borders when considering how we teach literature. When we remove them from our thinking processes, we increase tolerance, understanding and promote this kind of open-minded, global thinking in our classrooms.

That’s the kind of step we need to make to keep literature’s dynamic in relation to its societal role, to keep these classes relevant to our students and leave them walking away with something, that glorious spark that has them making connections to other disciplines and events, bringing progress and advancement to our world, one step at a time.

Not that we can’t do that with tradition. But if we stop it there, and give the impression that it’s a dead thing, it may eventually be treated as a dead thing, when it isn’t… and could become a dead thing, as we would understand it.