Sunday Book-Thought 75

However, it is also true that children are in touch with the rapid changes attendant on technology in a much more direct way than most of the adults who teach them, or support their learning at home. This brand new version of the generation gap is likely to widen – at least in the near future. It is therefore important that English teaching puts effort into being and staying ‘in touch’. This can be done by making use of the new technologies to expand opportunities for talking, reading and writing. This is no simple sop to rebelliousness, nor should it encourage intellectual laziness, as is the common assumption of the attacks on ‘media studies’ as an examination topic. It involves keeping up what has always been central to English teaching: the ability to make use of pupils’ current social interests by helping them to make connections between their lived experience and other modes of thought and expression. The use of popular culture as media for analysis makes these connections possible, and does not mean that other forms of cultural study, such as works of pre-twentieth century literature, are no longer valued by teachers.
It is important, however, for teachers to acknowledge the plural, and often contradictory, worlds of the home, the community and the classroom in order to ensure equal access for all to the most powerful genres of our culture. It would be easy, therefore, to conclude, as some politicians already have, that the teaching of the English language requires a more skill-based approach. There are stronger counter-arguments. At the secondary level, more than in any other subject, English is the site where pupils are challenged to make their own meanings and develop a critical attitude to their work while encountering issues that are most directly relevant to their lives. A focus on individual response and personal growth has an important function in education and the substitution of a basic or functional literacy would be an impoverishment and narrowing of the range of experiences available.
– Elaine Millard, Differently Literate: Boys, Girls and the Schooling of Literacy (London: Falmer Press, 1997), p. 155.

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Thinking Big, Thinking Small, Thinking Differently

The week after last, I trekked it down to London to attend the ‘Thinking Big: New Ambitions for English and the Humanities’ conference hosted at Senate House by the Institute of English Studies (where I did my MA) in collaboration with the School of English, Newcastle University. I had been asked to present a ‘provocation’ related to my research on the Digital Horizons panel. I’m good at provoking people, I thought to myself. I can totally do this. Off I went.

Despite having such a frustratingly vague name, this conference exposed me to so many interesting ideas about it means to study English and the humanities today. I learned things I didn’t know that I needed to know. I met people whose research blew me away with how innovative and interesting it was, and was humbled to see so many people engaging with publics in creatives ways that I hope to one day emulate myself. As a PhD student, it can be difficult to remember that there is a world outside of your thesis: Thinking Big showed me through its panels and their corresponding workshops (i.e. discussion-based seminars) that there are academics out there who are doing amazing work both nationally and internationally.

So, dear readers, because many of you were unable to make this conference, I have written you an overview of all that I learned at Thinking Big. This is a long one, but worth reading if you want to know about cool stuff happening within the humanities right now. Maybe you’ll get some ideas for your own cool stuff.

Read on, y’all. Continue reading “Thinking Big, Thinking Small, Thinking Differently”