Curriculum, Politics, and the Student/Teacher of English:The 2nd Conference on the Future of English Studies; October 16-17 2009
According to Terry Eagleton, English as a discipline was installed in England's universities to take up the slack when, in the 19-century, religion stopped providing the ideological glue required for social cohesion. Today there are increasing signs that, with its traditional emphasis on literature, English is going the way of religion as an agent of cohesion and unity. The question, not only of the future of English, but of the humanities as well, looms large. Michael Berubé has asked why we should expect "the aesthetic" to lead us to "some larger sense of community," Simon During and Louis Menand have sounded the death knell of English literature as a discipline, and Stanley Fish has baldly stated that the humanities are of no use "whatsoever." Indeed, the status of English Studies has been precarious from its inception and perhaps never more so than today. For in addition to failing to provide the ideological cement for competing constituencies to get along—witness the culture wars and the red states/blue states divide—English studies seems destined to fail as a site for honing language skills, acquiring knowledge, and seeking intellectual stimulus and aesthetic pleasure.
In our classrooms we regularly encounter students who think no more of relying on websites, cell phones, iPods, Facebook, myspace, youtube, and blogs for news, information, knowledge, opinions, and pleasure than previous generations thought of relying on newspapers, magazines, journals, and books. Such increasing dependency on images and visual stimulation for information and gratification jeopardizes the traditional focus of English Studies—reading and writing—and thus the humanistic enterprise. The pressures from politicians, administrators, and public experts to place more emphasis on new technologies and practical skills further undermines the traditional injunction of English Studies, as Martha Nussbaum has argued, to cultivate humanity by developing the capacities for critical self-examination and looking at the world from other points of view. All of this seems to mean that English Studies is out-of-business-as-usual. But the question of how to adapt, or even whether to adapt, to changing demographics and political, technological, and social pressures has no easy answer.
We invite proposals on any topic related to the pressures that English Studies, from the secondary to the university level, face from technological, political, economic, and other spheres of influence. We especially welcome proposals that address the following questions:
*What is English's purpose?
*Should English Studies be a site for humanization and social transformation?
*Should English Studies become Cultural Studies?
*Should it "teach the conflicts?"
*What is the value of teaching English in the secondary schools?
*What is or should be the focus of English at the secondary level?
*How can English teachers at secondary schools and universities work together?
*How are schools of education preparing new teachers to address the relationship between language skills and politics and ideology?
*Should they prepare new teachers to do so?
*What needs to change in teacher training?
*What is the function of the language arts in an age which increasingly relies on the image as a source of knowledge and information?
*How does an economic recession affect what English Studies does or represents?
*What are English teachers to do in the face of rhetoric and public policy that emphasizes green technology, job re-training, and scientific research over and above liberating the mind from custom, habit, and routine? *How can English teachers affect real change in public policy and educational practices?
*How do we in the profession explain to those outside of it what we do and why if we ourselves are no longer sure?
*How can we argue for the relevance of English Studies in a world that, increasingly, seems to get along quite well without it?
Please submit 500-word abstracts for individual papers or panels to Sara Cordell (firstname.lastname@example.org) or William Carpenter (email@example.com) by June 15, 2009.
Email submissions preferred. Acceptances will be sent by July 15, 2009.