Secondary English Literature Canon Project Presented by Jeff Scott (Opeongo English) for the English Subject Council of the RCDSB Proposal: I propose the founding of a group of interested English teachers whose task it would be to develop a list of recommended literature for study in our various courses. Eventually (ideally), each major text in the list would be accompanied by a précis supporting its merit as a piece of literature suitable to secondary school students and the curriculum that they study in our specific English programmes. This list and accompanying précis would serve all RCDSB English teachers, as well as students, parents, and administrators, as both a reference and a rationale for the particular works of poetry, fiction and drama studied in RCDSB English classes. I would exclude from this list anthologies already prescribed to courses through the Ministry of Education (i.e. Sightlines 9, Imprints 11, etc.). Clearly this proposed list would not be static or closed, but would be an ongoing and dynamic project of secondary English teachers. It should be noted that, being an English teacher myself and therefore understanding the out-of-the-classroom workload that our subject position requires, it would be my assumption that the bulk of this project work would be generated during professional development time allotted by the RCDSB. Rationale: Of late our curriculum is less prescriptive of the actual content of literary works studied than it might have tended to be in the past. Choosing suitable works for study is an extremely challenging, yet perennially important aspect of our work. Traditionally, typical “canon” literature has been replaced by popular contemporary works whose merits seemed to deem them worthy of study (i.e. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, or J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, etc.). These works were clearly chosen for a plethora of reasons and have in many cases been very successful. Given our budgetary and time constraints, our choices of texts for study tend to be long term. These texts are so much a fundamental part of our daily classroom experience that selecting the best pieces for study is one of the most significant choices an English programme can make. As we look to select literary texts for our courses which supplement or supplant those in current use, or, conversely, as we choose to retain or dismiss works in current study, what should be our criteria? -Should we observe “the test of time”? That is, how long and to what degree should a text have been under public and critical scrutiny before we deem it worthy of consideration for study in our classrooms? -How do we - or should we - judge a work’s calibre against the expectations of each course that we teach? -Given that in the best works of any era authors often tend to push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable in content, how shall we censor our choices of literature? -While it is true that we strive to choose works that will be of interest to a wide variety of students, to what extent should our choices of fiction, poetry, and drama broaden and develop their boundaries in literary studies? By extension, to what degree can we address the need for the reading of texts from different eras than our own as well as the goal of studying literature from multicultural, multi-ethnic, and gender balanced perspectives though our choices of content for study? These and many other issues are challenging points of inquiry for us to consider as we select poetry, drama, and fiction to study either as full-class texts; through independent studies; in literature circles; as read-alouds; or through any other approach our pedagogies lead us toward in introducing literature to our students. I believe that the process of developing and maintaining our own secondary literature canon will help us to make these important and difficult decisions in a collaborative and educated fashion.
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