25 October 2014

"New Criticism, Close Reading, and Failing Critical Literacy Again"

Every time I read a post from Paul Thomas, my teaching self stands up a little straighter. I read this take down of close reading, CC-style, at the end of my critical methods unit in AP Lit. Ouch.

" Like the mechanistic and reductive ways in which New Criticism has been implemented in formal schooling in order to control and measure objectively how students respond to text, CC and the focus on close reading are poised to serve efficiency models of high-stakes testing while also failing students who need and deserve the complex and challenging tools afforded with critical literacy."

Of course, doing a "Lit Crit Legends" mini-unit in an AP course is mostly about offering strategies to students for attacking the unfamiliar texts that always show up on the test. And part of our discussion centers on the artificial nature of criticism, and the parallel enjoyment someone can get from the intellectual exercise anyway.  This year, as we worked on one passage together in Tale of Two Cities, I felt the Dickens appreciation quotient double in the room that day. But I recognize that Thomas has a valid point regarding the futility of setting up a particular structure for analysis and then expecting the result to be a creative thinker.   It shows me that 1) I should be pleased that I address AP goals and skills so directly, and 2) I should feel just as disappointed as I do in stretching the reading process of my students into this convoluted and disrespectful form.

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