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This article is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

Once more on Value and English Lit. Walter Bruno
In a recent conversation in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Clune took on Gabrielle Starr and Kevin Dettmar, in a debate over skills development in English, and whether fictional literature was relevant for employers.

It was prompted by the current soul-searching in English, amidst an academy turning more and more to training and away from literature. In all of this, the debaters agreed that curriculum must have a value, or a use-value for employment. Still, employers were sceptical of the outcomes. This was not a minor issue, since English enrollments are cratering, and professorial ranks, thinning.

For their part, Professors Starr and Dettmar argued that English had employment value even as graduates went into non-academic jobs. For them, value in literary study was generated by critical thinking, and critical thinking came from readers making their own meanings of texts. Furthermore, they insisted that classical canons could not do that; critical thinking came from reading voices that were new to literature or revealed by the new deconstructions. They saw this as a battle between the tastes of older elites, drilled into students, and empathetic awareness, brought on by new stories about new people:
Sit in on any English class and you’ll hear a lot about value – about the value of literature in pushing the boundaries of empathy; about the efficacy of poetry in encouraging thorough, expansive engagement, rather than minimal, uniform assessment;  about the moral weight of fiction in a world that may be post-truth. Value is certainly front and centre, but not ...


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