To the Editors:
I want to respond to The Record’s editorial concerning the English Department’s curricular revisions (March 16). Or try to respond: I have to admit I had some difficulty figuring out what the piece was arguing. You begin by noting that the paper had previously come out in favor of a diversification of course offerings in English. “This,” you go on to say, “was before we saw some of the new 100-level courses that will take the place of the old 101.” The argument from there seems to waver between a call for a return to a single English 101 course—hard to sort with the call for a diversification of courses—and the claim that diversification is good, but not this version of diversity, not these courses. Having acknowledged that the aim of teaching analytical writing skills can be met in various ways, you nevertheless take issue with what you somehow divine to have been the department’s “too conscious … decision to distance itself from the old 101,” and then end: “Will “Thinking and Writing about Television” really get us farther than “Techniques of Reading”? Farther toward what? one wants to ask. The piece seems to have some notion of what ought to be allowable as an introductory English course, but rather than actually engage that issue (why is film less legitimate than, say, drama?), you offer vague talk of more “meat and potatoes” and the easy rhetorical gesture of citing what you take to be the most scandalous of the course titles, an exercise in the “need we say more” mode of argumentation.
Let me reiterate my understanding of what these curricular revisions are and are not doing. The change from a multi-sectioned 101 with a single course catalogue listing to a range of individually listed, writing-intensive 100-level courses is not the dismantling of a “core” course. English 101 never was a core course. As we point out in the course package, of the 300 or so students who take the course annually, approximately one in ten go on to become majors. In that sense, to conceive it as the core course in the major, the course which, as you say of Religion 101, “gives majors a common base,” would be misplaced. Indeed, such a base is precisely what we hope to introduce with the new 200-level “Gateway” courses, courses aimed at students who are considering the major or sustained upper-level course work in the department. Our motive in moving toward individually listed introductory courses is above all pedagogical. Many (though not all) faculty, and many (though not all) students have felt that 101 as it is currently and rather generically defined lacks a compelling focus. Individual faculty will now take on the burden of making their 100-level offerings precisely as focused and compelling as they choose to make them. At the same time, we believe that students will benefit for having actively chosen a writing-intensive course on a topic they find intriguing, rather than perhaps reflexively opting for what may have come to feel like the college’s default writing course. In the future, some of these courses may well focus on film. Some may focus on Shakespeare, some will draw together “mainstream” and minority literatures. And some will be very much like 101 as it is has been taught in the past.