THE RISE AND FALL OF ENGLISH by Robert Scholes

THE RISE AND FALL OF ENGLISH

Reconstructing English as a Discipline
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A middling effort to claim the culture wars' middle ground over the teaching of English in high schools, colleges, and universities. Scholes (Humanities/Brown Univ.) has seen enough in almost 50 years in the field of English to worry that it has hit its high point (somewhere between genteel early-20th-century literary appreciation and technical New Criticism) and will suffer the same declining fate as Classics or utter extinction like Belles Lettres. Before making his modest proposal, he objectively reviews English's evolution in American education, primarily at Brown and Yale, over the last two centuries as it absorbed Rhetoric and replaced Classics as the foundation of a humanist education. The new subject, however, was somewhat uncomfortable with assuming the mantle of civilization from Greek and Latin, and its teachers found grammar and composition infra dig while they established their academic hierarchy. By the time deconstruction had undermined the previous generation's assumptions about truth and meaning, this status quo had become all but immovable. Although Scholes (Protocols of Reading, not reviewed, etc.) is well versed in literary theory, he sees no solution in turning the undergraduate syllabus into ``a set of Great Theories, Great Theoreticians'' any more than enforcing a curriculum of Great Books Ö la E.D. Hirsch. Instead, he hopes that English can return to a more pragmatic basis, inculcating ``textual power,'' which he describes as ``the ability to understand and produce a wide variety of texts,'' whether in academe or on the job. Unfortunately, despite his work with an educational task force whose goal was to retool high-school English teaching, his basic pedagogic program, which covers ``texts'' from epic poetry to film and television, begs too many questions about why English is studied in the first place. An honest but ultimately muddled attempt to come down from English Lit's ivory tower and put theory into practice.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-07151-5
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998