Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 14, 5 July 1976.
English: Another Bite
English: Another Bite
Another Personal View of the English Department.
In her article "A personal Response to the English Department" Kathleen Culliford claims that the English Department is satisfactory as it is because; (a) it provides "an interaction between tutor and student that brings about a process of learning", and (b) helps us to "attain a private awareness and understanding of a poet or novelist which transcends the bounds of a narrowing essay topic".
The evidence she gives for (a) is the fact that "lecturers are human beings who see the study of English as extending beyond the bounds of book-learning and into realms of human relationships". While I readily agree this is true, it nevertheless ignores the reality of a system, that despite all the good will on the part of our lecturers and tutors, prevents any real interaction between them and students.
The motivating force of this system is the principle of competitive assessment that is in turn specifically directed towards the creation of an artistic elite. This "survival of the fittest" ethic makes the learning that arises from human interaction very difficult because of the competitive basis of inter-student relationships and the power basis of staff-student relationships. It is not easy, especially for a first year student to relate to a tutor who hold your future (i.e. pass/fail) in their hands. I'm not saying staff deliberately wield this power, but the very existence of the power structure makes communication on an equal basis virtually impossible.
The only evidence she gives for point (b) is her own private experience. Now, although I accept the validity in this experience, I think many other people have had a different reaction. She talks about reaching a "marvellous transcendental state" from ones appreciation of literature
In my experience at least, movement towards this state is hindered by competitive assessment. It discourages creativity and personal involvment as we are restricted to a very narrow range by the proscribed limits of essays and exams How often have you noticed that the only books you ever read are proscribed texts?
Kathleen also poses a solution to a problem of "superficiality of approach" engendered by an excessive workload. She advises us to concentrate on a small number of authors as "many English lecturers seem to regard this as an acceptable approach". Where then is the English degree that is supposed to give us a specialised grounding in a large number of authors representing the whole span of literature?
If, as she seems to be implying, this specialised training is not in fact being given, why are we still clinging to the structures (i.e. competitive assessment and adherence to a "syllabus") that were designed to implement it
Finally, I would point out that both our articles have been "personal viewpoints"; I am not advocating that either take precedence, but that the choice be left open to the student.
- Gerard Couper