This, my friends, is the stuff of nightmares.
I'll make no secret of my undying loathing of all things Assessment Objective related in English Literature classes. I'll tolerate them in the Sciences, Economics, Maths, and at a push I might even make room for them in History or Theology.
But English Literature?
Kill me with a stick and set me on a low heat to simmer for the rest of eternity.
Call me a raving Romantic, but I don't believe literature, or poetry, or any form of creative writing should have to fulfill criteria. I can see why they exist - the plight of those overworked exam invivilators and markers of papers is not beyond my comprehension, for all I loathe their profession - and I can also see why, to some extent their invention was inevitable. Humans love to compete, and if any author can laud their work as better than another's because of the inclusion of X, Y and Epsilon, then most likely they will take the chance at some stage.
Nevertheless . . . who, in the name of Chaucer's baggy Y-fronts, thought it was a clever idea to make students spend their lives shoving works of literature through formulaic loopholes that will, most likely, lead to them loathing the text, the lesson, and possibly even the prospect of literature itself?
During my application for Oxford this year - unsuccessfully, just in case any of you were wondering - I spent a lot of time talking to my academic tutor, an Oxford graduate himself, about this problem. He agrees with me; criteriam and assessment objectives aren't bad in themselves, but unless they are balanced out by discussion and enjoyment of the text in its own right, outside of syllabus guidelines, then they're not getting what they should do.
And what should they get? A chance to make up their own minds over whether or not a text has any value. For themselves.
It's all very well telling someone that James Joyce's Ulysses is one of the greatest works of the 20th Century, but believee it unless they do it themselves.
Words cannot express my sadness over the disgust most of my classmates felt for Shakespeare's Othello last year. They hated it because of how pedantic and belittling the criteria were - unless we used certain words, certain connecting phrases, and every other sentence was a regurgitated reinstatement of the importance of the essay's title, we were getting C grades or worse.
Because of this, we skipped nearly two full Acts of the play, had no understanding of most of its underlying themes and concepts, and some of the class has even lost the plot entirely.
I don't mean this as a critique of the education system at its purest sense. I mean it as a critique of the fact that such a wonderful, evocative, emotional story can be treated in such a way that it loses everything that makes it great.
A story is worth more than the author's use of complex metaphor and treatment of recurring themes.
However, I do not mean to sound like a militant liberal hippie-beast. All I am saying is that, sometimes, amidst all the desire for top marks, high grades, and all the trappings that go with it, the other, less easily categorised parts of literature can get lost in the mix.
Sometimes, we need to read something for enjoyment. For appreciation of its context, its treatment of themes, its originality. We need to appreciate it for its it-ness.
We need to think of why we think a novel, a poem, or a play is important and interesting to us.
Art, for art's sake.
. . . the English department really should have known better than to let me choose a coursework essay on the reasons for the popularity and survival of Shakespeare's sonnets, shouldn't they?
~ Charley R