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    9th October 2011

    Reading and thinking from different perspectives: Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial literary criticism

    First, before getting to the topic mentioned above, and since this is another post that I’m submitting for my class on teaching English, I’m going to provide a link to a website that more or less collects good web content about teaching English. allows users to create pages about certain topics. then crawls the web finding content related to that topic and creates a stream that the page moderator can browse through, choosing which content to post to the main page. Here’s the link for the “TeachingEnglish” page.

    Some English majors/teachers do not have a good relationship with modern literary theory, in large part because college lit theory classes can be heavy on the theory and not ever show how the different theories in practice. When I was at Denver Seminary read scholars using all of the different theoretical perspectives, and also wrote using many of the perspectives as well. I then was able to refresh my understandings last year while taking English classes at Colorado State, so I feel pretty confident when it comes to most lit crit. The discipline of academic biblical studies has been using Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial criticism at least since the start of the liberation theology movement in the 50s, 60s and 70s; and now there are many works in biblical studies done utilizing one or more these (i.e., see a short article utilizing postcolonial and feminist readings).

    I’m not going to explain the details of Marxist, feminist, and postcolonial literary criticism right here because there are many other resources to do that for me (click the links for some sweet wikipedia action). These three have in common that they cause readers to more carefully examine and question the world and worldview within a text (the setting of the story!) as well as the world and worldview of the author, and how that contributed to the creation of the text. And when I say question the world and worldview, what I mean especially is looking critically at the power structures and asking questions like: Who or what groups have the most power and influence? How do they exert their power or influence? What of their beliefs are influential? What are their interests and how do they protect them? How does our reading change if we imagine ourselves as part of a different group of people (upper class, lower class, male, female, black, white, Hispanic, native, foreign, in-power, out-of-power)?

    In the Deborah Appleman book I’ve already mentioned in earlier posts, Critical Encounters in High School English, she has chapters for each of these three theories, discussing ways to include them in the classroom. I personally think it’s great, and think that these three theories in particular are perhaps the most useful for helping students develop the ability to think critically about their world and the influence of the texts that they are reading. No matter what social standing a student has, it will be valuable to understand how literature and other media contributes to the structure of the world they live in – and potentially question that structure or the ideology that keeps it in place by asking questions such as, Is success the result of hard work?

    In the “Teaching English Language Arts in Secondary Classrooms” class that I am in right now, as well as in the literacy and teaching English language learners classes I am taking, we have talked a bit about whether Standard or Academic English is the best and most acceptable English for classroom use. This conversation really does fit in under a discussion of Marxist and postcolonial criticism because the designation of a correct or official version of a language is ultimately related to politics or power structures. Whatever group has the power (whether political, monetary, military, or other) will be able to decide what knowledge is worthy of passing on in classrooms. Generally, education systems tend to perpetuate whatever systems are in place that keep power with those who already have it. Thus, in the United States the English variety used primarily by the well-off and educated is made to seem superior to other dialects, especially those used by black and Hispanic-origin Americans.

    Listen to one of my favorite cajun chefs; watch a clip of featuring “a sampling of the many neighborhood and class-based accents in New Orleans circa 1983 from the documentary YEAH YOU RITE! by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker” (the documentary is old and somewhat backwards; or search for “accent” on youtube and listen to the accents of different people all over the globe!

    However, what I was really wanting to get to was this video featuring an audio essay of sorts by Stephen Fry, in which he talks about his journey from language snob to understanding and accepting that there are different times and uses for different syntactical structures:

    “Most people accept the need to smarten up under some circumstances… But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. There is no right language or wrong language any more than there are right or wrong clothes. Context, convention, and circumstance are all.”

    [Edit: For those of you interested, there are now 5 members of my class blogging about our reading. Check the others out if you’re ever craving more English ed blogs:]

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.