Month: February 2011

A Quest for Liberty

Posted February 24, 2011 by Michael Kitto in Culture / 0 Comments

The Mariner; one of the wood-engraved illustrations by Gustave Doré.

On 11th July 1789 the French citizens stormed the Bastille. Their dreams were for a revolution, a dream of liberty. One of the biggest influences of the French Revolution was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau and his fellow philosopher Denis Diderot dreamed of a world where everyone was unique and free. But both these philosophers shared two very different views on the world. Diderot believed knowledge was power and is as a co-founder and contributor to the Encyclopédie and is quite possible the father of the Age of Enlightenment (an era that focused heavily on Western philosophy, intellectual, scientific and cultural life). But Rousseau was focused more on the emotions and humanity; his thinking paved the way for the Romantic Period.

While both philosophers dreamed of liberty and went onto do great things after the French Revolution, liberty was not fully achieved. While the lower and middle classes were now considered people, they never really have the opportunity to have a voice and freedom of expression. It wasn’t until the book Lyrical Ballads did this chance begin to take effect. The collection of poems breathed life into the Romantic Period and the vision of individuality. Lyrical Ballads was written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and changed the course of English literature and poetry. The book was an intimate look at the rustic lives, written in simple words for everyone to read and enjoy. The poems had a more lasting affect than any political document and were a pure expression of Romantic ideas. The poems placed an emphasis on the vitality of the living voice and used the poor to express their realities. The poems took aim at the harsh realities of life at the time; like The Last of the Flock, which tells the story of a farmer who had to sell all his animals in order to feed his family. One of best known poems from this collection, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner focused on one of the major themes linked with the Romantic Period; the importance of nature.

The Romantic Period and the Age of Enlightenment (both era’s I’ve held great interest in) have helped build society – for better or worse – into what it is today. While both eras were fighting for liberty, it is interesting to note that without the French Revolution we may have never been free to express ourselves.


Why Study Literature?

Posted February 18, 2011 by Michael Kitto in Literature / 0 Comments

Recently I posted a blog post about what I would teach if I was to do a class on English Literature 101.  The topic sparked a lot of debate and I was very happy with the post. But I was asked this week, why I read so much and why I would want to teach English literature. The short answer is the fact I love reading and it’s an exciting topic; but I’ve been pondering the question and trying to get a deeper more extensive answer.

As most people know, I never was much of a reader until recently, when I started my journey into educating myself; I discovered a real joy in reading. It’s easy to just look at reading as just an activity to do for enjoyment but I believe there is so much more to reading and there is a lot to gain from studying literature.

To benefit from others beliefs, bias, insight & knowledge

The world of literature has a wealth of knowledge we can learn from and if we take the time to study and analyse what we read, we have access to some interesting points of views. This information can give us access to many different aspects, from first-hand accounts of history, their personal understanding of the world and even a different take on the philosophy and culture we live by and in. While it’s important to remember that what we read is in the view point of someone else, this bias view can help us redefine or strengthen ourselves.

Self Improvement

I can think of so many ways reading can help you improve; from simple things like improve vocabulary, exercising our brains, learning from others mistakes and helping to define a writing style. While I think these are great; there is one more reason why reading can help you improve and I want to focus on this one. Reading encourages us to question “accepted” knowledge; in school we are taught that we have to accept what we are taught as fact, and those basic hypotheses are the building blocks of knowledge. However the human progress doesn’t work this way. When we get older we begin to question things more and more. The main problem is we often just form assumptions based on what we know and don’t take the time to analyse the information. When we read (especially nonfiction) we are forced to look at information from other points of view and while we don’t always agree with it, inevitably we are forced to look at ourselves. While people “say what they mean and mean what they say” ultimately we need to learn to open our minds to the ambiguities of world.

Exploration

While most people say they read as a form of escape, it is important to remember that we are able to learn while we are escaping our world. We can be learning empathy just by reading a tragic story; we can be learning about other cultures and their views and even into the mindset of a different type of person. There is so much about the world we can discover.

Maybe we don’t take the time to analyse what and why we are reading but maybe subconsciously we are learning something new. I’d like to think every book I’ve read is teaching me something different and while I don’t take the time to analyse every book, I do try to understand and judge the books content for myself.


The Measure of Intelligence

Posted February 10, 2011 by Michael Kitto in Education / 3 Comments

In 1904, the French psychologist Alfred Binet created the Binet Scale which became the basis of what is now the IQ Test. Originally it was created to measure a child’s strengths and weakness so the teacher knew which areas would require special attention for each individual student. The Binet Scale become a revolutionary approach to the assessment of individual mental ability, but it was never designed to test someone’s intelligence. Binet himself cautioned against misuse of the Binet Scale and has been quoted in saying “the scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.” He also feared that the test would be used to condemn a child rather than assist their education.

The Binet Scale had a profound effect on educational development but they failed to listen to Alfred Binet’s warnings and as a result of Lewis M. Terman’s revisions to the Binet Scale (now known as the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale of Intelligence) we now has a standardised intelligence test. This IQ Test became a standard practise and a multimillion dollar business; even resulting in the American Academy for the Advancement of Science listing the IQ test among the twenty most significant scientific discoveries of the twentieth century along with nuclear fission, DNA, the transistor and flight (in 1989).

If the IQ test was meant to monitor a person’s intelligence I have some questions that need answering;

How are they defining intelligence?

  • The ability to do well in school?
  • The ability to read well and spell correctly
  • Or the ability to following an intelligent person?

When did a person’s intelligence become linear?

The problem I found is that standardised testing is trying to make everyone the same, when we should be using the test on the young for its original purpose. Maybe we should just scrap the whole thing. I’ve also think other tests like the SAT’s are been misused as well. Let me know your thoughts.


What Would You Read in an Introduction to Fiction Course?

Posted February 1, 2011 by Michael Kitto in Education, Literature / 16 Comments

Currently on the curriculum for the Ohio State University course, An Introduction to Fiction is Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I’ve also heard of some other high schools and universities using it as an introduction to fiction or gothic fiction courses. At first I felt sorry for all the future English majors who will have to read this book. But I thought, instead of bad mouthing the book (which is so easy to do), I would take some time and think about what I would want to see in an introductory course of fiction.

I started by compiling a list of topics I would want to cover if I ever did a course about fiction. I narrowed it down to ten key topics when looking at fiction;

  1. Plot
  2. Characterisation
  3. Dialogue
  4. Point of view
  5. Setting
  6. Style
  7. Narrative
  8. Themes
  9. Genres
  10. Concepts/Issues

 

It was the last point that stood out to me more than any of the other topics. When looking at good fiction, I would want to look at the issues that drive the discussions about these books. With this I picked out five books that would explore moral, social, philosophical or intellectual issues. When picking the books, I also tried to pick different genres and writing styles that make for a great read.

 

So if I was to create an introduction to Fiction course, my reading list would include;

I would love to know what you would pick for a reading list if you were to lead a similar course.