Why I Do Not Teach Classical Literature

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There are many reasons why I do not teach Classic literature, so why bother talking about them? There is no point in discussing the enhanced vocabulary of someone who reads Cicero and Shakespeare. Likewise, there is little purpose in pointing out the countless references that even contemporary literature and culture make to the foundational stories of the Greeks and Romans. For the same reason, I will not talk about turns of a phrase that have passed into our vernacular from the giants of British literature and the value of understanding them in their original contexts. I am certainly not going to comment on the fact that the previous three sentences form a tricolon crescens, a grouping of three ideas, each of which is expressed with greater complexity. There is also the fact that this entire paragraph is an example of praeteritio, a device by which an author draws attention to something by claiming to do no such thing, despite that both devices have their origins in the literature of Classical antiquity and continue to be powerful literary and rhetorical tools today. I do, however, teach Classic, specifically Classical, literature, and if these benefits and their like are not the reasons, then what is? … KEEP READING

Gimme More Rules So I Can Be Free!

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“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit… the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution.” — Igor Stravinsky

Students often want to know why an author did not say something in a more straightforward way. Why didn’t Shakespeare just say the girl was hot? Why did he have to get all “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” about it? Yet when we turn the question around and ask our students to write descriptively about, well, anything, they often hit the blank white paper wall. … KEEP READING

Why I Don’t Play by the Rules

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A better title would have been “The Few Times I Actually Do Play By the Rules,” because it seems my default position is to play outside them. Take my involvement with this site, for example. I do not teach AP Lit. Never have, never will. I do teach AP Latin. I have done that for longer than my students have been alive, but I do not teach AP Lit, and so right away you may be thinking, “Why am I reading what this guy has to say?” That is a fair question, and if I were writing about topics particular to the AP Lit exam, then you should by all means move on to something else, but I am not, and so I hope you will stay with me for a few more words. … KEEP READING