9 Sep

How literature becomes a habit

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 09/09/15

Flannery O’Connor exhorts English teachers

“I know, or at least I have been given to understand, that a great many high school graduates go to college not knowing that a period ordinarily follows the end of a sentence; but what seems even more shocking to me is the number who carry away from college with them an undying appreciation for slick and juvenile fiction. . . .”

“I don’t know whether I am setting the aims of the teacher of English too high or too low when I suggest that it is, partly at least, his business to change the face of the best-seller list. However, I feel that the teacher’s role is more fundamental than the critic’s. It comes down ultimately, I think, to the fact that his first obligation is to the truth of the subject he is teaching, and that for the reading of literature ever to become a habit and a pleasure, it must first be a discipline. The student has to have tools to understand a story or novel, and these are tools proper to the structure of the work, tools proper to the craft. They are tools that operate inside the work and not outside it; they are concerned with how this story is made and with what makes it work as a story.”

From the essay “The Teaching of Literature,” based on a talk to a group of English teachers, published in Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1961)

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