New Age, New Outlook: What Literature Teachers Should Consider
There are three essential elements that a literature teacher should think about when choosing texts to assign to their students. Firstly, some texts should incorporate relevant messaging to relate to current events. Secondly, the teacher should be mindful of how written works of the past have predominantly followed the implementation of Eurocentric influences. Students of today should be exposed to more alternative literature that is diverse and inclusive with respect to multiculturalism. Lastly, based on the previous points, teachers should address the goals they are attempting to meet in a subjective and ethical manner, and the text should meet those goals in some capacity. Throughout this paper, these points will be elaborated on in full by addressing what kind of decisions teachers should make and what their objectives should be within context.
In an era of intensified globalization, popular culture, cancel culture and misinformation, the need for enhancing critical and diverse thinking among younger generations has never been greater. For literature teachers who must compete with disposable 280-character Tweets and the uprising of trends like meme culture, the task at hand has become increasingly challenging. It is somewhat effortless for the average student, or individual for that matter, to become victim to the phenomenon of misinformation and media bias. Therefore, it is important for literature teachers to give their students the ammunition needed to become responsible and critical pupils through the power of text that provoke thought and curiosity. Certain literature can be used as a tool for teachers to instill values and skills students may find useful in the ‘real world’, all the while, still giving them the autonomy to draw their own personal conclusions. It is also important that the texts chosen can be relatable to the students to some degree in order for them to draw on these conclusions in a meaningful way. Regardless of the era of the piece, the messaging can still be relevant to today.
Although humankind has become more individualistic and has disconnected from what inspired much of the greatest literature of our time, like nature and ‘the divine’, there is something to be said about the timelessness and the persistence of literature composed decades ago. However, the overall influence of literature that has been associated with “the greatest pieces of our times” has been legitimized from a Eurocentric lens. It is important to address this matter in modern day literature classes, highlighting great works that have arisen decades later, and why certain texts have become timeless while others have fallen under the radar. Beyond English classes, much of Canadian curricula involving the ‘soft sciences’ – in high schools in particular – are in dire need of replumbing and re-evaluation. As the demographic of Canadian students continually grows in heterogeneity, so too should the texts that are assumed to represent the whole.
As media bias has been mentioned previously, it is important to address the personal biases of teachers, too. Although some teachers may not be as severe as University of Toronto literature professor, David Gilmour, who self-admits to only teaching the texts of “seriously heterosexual males”, it is essential that teachers are self aware of their personal biases and ethical responsibilities when assigning materials. With the rise of cancel culture, it brings up important discussion and insight that should not be shunned but instead critiqued and analyzed. Teachers should not cross ethical lines, such as the limiting of assigned texts according to personal ideology, but instead provide students with a spectrum of thought and the opportunity to critically think in a learning environment. This should be an objective a literature teacher should strive for. Referring to students having the opportunity to draw on their own personal conclusions, it is also the responsibility of literature teachers to give pupils the tools needed to do so without persuading them as to what they personally believe to be right or wrong. Of course, this idea is limited knowing there is a societal consensus as to what literature and ideas would be considered inappropriate.
In conclusion, although the work of literature teachers has become somewhat more challenging in the face of budding new societal phenomena like cancel culture and memes, there is hope. If literature teachers take an ethical stance on subjectively evaluating their assigned text for biases and historical significance in this day of teaching, it could spark change throughout the education system. In turn, it would make for a generation of students leaving the education system with the tools of critical thinking and the confidence to draw conclusions for themselves. If there is equal effort made by the teacher and the student, the choice of texts could lead to greater personal discovery both inside and outside of the classroom.