ELTWeekly Newsletter Vol. 3 Issue#91 | June 27, 2011
The importance of the study of literature has not been realised in the modern world. The career-oriented learning system and the skill-based approach to education have eroded the study of humanities to a great extent. The question, whether the study of humanities is relevant, seems to have almost taken an answer ‘no’ from the mass, whereas, the very terminology ‘humanities’ explains its relevance to the professional students and other students universally.
English Literature is extensively used in schools and colleges all over the world and the research on the topic ‘Language through Literature’ has almost been exhaustively made, ignoring some other facets beyond this dimension, which are yet to be explored. Language proficiency is not the only positive result a literature class can provide, but other innumerable benefits.
English Communication, as a skill, is normally developed in students in various institutions as part of a skill based learning system. Various colleges in the developing countries have incorporated the LSRW in the fluid and the fixed text. Communication, thus emphasized, is pursued as the one and only outcome of the foundation course in colleges and the study of literature has taken a back seat.
THE MODERN AGE
The word ‘Modern’, in dictionary terms can be defined as that which is characteristic of anything recent. The terminology, ‘Modern Age’ though may refer to a movement in Literature, art and culture, which started in the early twentieth century; this study just refers to the most recent times which can also be called ‘The Cyber Age’. There has been a marked stage of decline in the study of literature in the modern times and whether or not, the values have degenerated in the modern society is beyond the scope of this study. This study explores the usefulness of literature in inculcating values among the younger generation and refers to some commonly found vices of the electronic age. These vices may be perpetual among the mass and even if they are so, they need to be addressed by building a system of values in the younger generation and have been listed below. These are also of the modern human race in general. Some of them are:
- Non-committal and non-emotional attitude to life
- Prioritizing of materialism
- Depreciation of art
- Lack of stoicism
- Lack of insight into life and human nature
- Loss of identity
- Isolation or alienation
There are many reasons behind these vices and the decline in the study of literature is just one of them. The students of the present generation are the sons of the modern electronic age, with the goodness and vices of the age. Therefore it becomes essential that the character of the students is developed, as they pursue their higher education.
CURRENT VALUE EDUCATION SYSTEM
There are many disadvantages in the current value education system and can be discussed as under. Before these disadvantages are discussed, let us look into the currently available methods for teaching value education in colleges.
- Listing values and discussion of those values.
- Activities like social service, street theatre and so on.
Let us look at the failure of these methods in teaching value education at colleges. In the first method, the listing of values becomes an impossible task as there is no complete list of values available and the assimilation and practice of human values are latent in nature. Counselling can only be offered to those students, who are in dire need of it and even if offered, would only find a solution for a particular problem demonstrating a particular value.
Value education through various activities would be partly successful if it is offered as part of curriculum and yet, there are limitations such as demand of extra hours, assessment and so on. Value education through discussion and brainstorming can help, but without a text to support, it would be artificial. Further, only a few values can be dealt with, at a particular time. Some values like art, beauty and building an emotional competence cannot be accommodated comprehensively in this approach.
Hence it becomes absolutely necessary that Literature should be offered as a paper for all students in the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, pursuing degrees of all kinds in Arts, Science, Commerce, Engineering and Medicine.
The beginning was made in this direction by the University of Madras, which released a book titled Touchstone: Synergy of Value in the year 2004. Personality development, gender issues and Environmental awareness are the various chapters of study in this book. In the chapter titled ‘value Education’, various kinds of values are discussed and the poem ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling finds a place. Mere classification or definition of human values becomes inadequate and the advocation of literature in this case becomes indispensable, as literature alone can generate situations or experiences through which, values can be inculcated or acquired by the students.
A NEW APPROACH
Value Education can be offered through a thematic study of literature. Literature is not usually taught in terms of vocabulary, parts of speech and semantics. The teacher of Literature often provides examples, discusses similar situations, offers personal anecdotes, reinforces thought with arguments and extracts opinions from the students. Hence, the principles of teaching values are already found to have taken a place in Literature classes. In order to enhance the effect, a new approach is absolutely essential and is the need of the hour. In this approach, the literature is introduced to the student and after explication, a discussion is generated, which paves way for value education. Care should be taken to ensure that the students do not get turned away facing difficult words and complex sentences. In such cases, an abridged version or a paraphrase can be used. Various discussions and activities thus triggered would enable the teacher to administer values. Sometimes, the work of literature could also offer scope for general topics of discussion, which may not be connected with the theme. One or all of the following methods can be adopted in a language class:
1. Listening to the central themes of the work of literature.
This exercise, which is already a part of literature class room in the post graduation level, is fast disappearing in the under graduation and school levels in the developing countries, where imparting language is given more importance and the emphasis on ‘Language through Literature’ consumes most of the teaching hours. In the guise of analysing the themes underlying some literary works, some major problems persecuting mankind, ways to solve them, ways to accede to the reality, the sublime and the profane can be discussed. Analysing these themes becomes a powerful tool to enumerate a list of values.
2. Comment on the characters and their values.
This study is most often restricted to the students who learn Literature as their major subject and the character sketches and paragraphs or short notes on some characters in the primary level have been reduced to a monotonous routine in which students are trained in an examination point of view, losing a realisation of the importance of the task they are doing. Certain characters in literature stand for certain virtues, both noble and ignoble, most characters ideally created by the author to set examples for mankind to emulate. Though some characters with negative qualities are also present in the works of literature, the plot woven by the author, always propounds a moral lesson by demonstrating the consequences of the possession of those qualities.
3. Comment on the predicament of the characters with a self-indulgence
In this step, an induced association of literature to the real life takes the teacher a long way in the inculcation of values deep inside the psyche of the students. This is a favourable reaction, which happens to most of the readers of literature, wherein they are sensitised to the problems and pleasures of human life in general. The study of literature becomes more meaningful at this juncture, where the readers become empathetic and thoughtful, and receiving indirect sermons on appropriate behaviour during good and bad times. A character formation takes place through this approach and in times of difficulty in a student’s life, strength is drawn from these characters which preach an infinite set of values.
4. If the author can be contradicted, improvisation to the work of literature.
The eccentricity of the authors and their treatment of certain themes pose a challenge to the value education system, leading to a confusion of what is wrong and what is right. Some works of literature pose a threat to the acquisition of values with ease, but nevertheless, this situation can be tackled by generating a discussion on what is right and wrong. The so called right and wrongs as perceived by individuals and respecting a person for his individuality are very complex ideas and can be understood only with the help of literature. Thus this stage of improvisation makes the student more aware of the subtle differences in opinion that prevail among the species and the need to learn to defy or agree with them in a proper manner, if situation arises.
5. Defining values
After the central themes and the characters are analysed, the predicament of the characters and the author’s view point are discussed, it becomes important to define values. Some values can be defined but some vary according to individuals. In this stage, the teacher should not thrust her view on his students but can play an assertive role in defining the right and the wrong values.
6. Attempt writing something pertaining to the given work of literature.
In this step, a creative writing is initiated, which helps the student to create his own literature and the finished product contributes to the assessment of the student by the teacher. The written assignment can also be an analysis of the work of literature, the student’s perception of the theme, his opinion on the issues discussed and his views on life in general.
7. Preparing a questionnaire.
A questionnaire is a scientific way of surveying and gauging the ideas and opinions pertaining to a particular theme. Based on the discussion generated by a work of literature, a questionnaire can be prepared by the teacher to assess the values acquired by the students and in this case, they can be filled and submitted anonymously for encouraging candid responses. In this case, the collective value system of the class can be assessed at the end of the value education through literature. In addition, the students can also be asked to prepare questionnaire, and conduct a survey of values.
8. Mode of assessment
If this system of teaching Value education in the institutions is adopted, then one of the major difficulties it could pose, would be the mode of assessment. A written assignment and questionnaire would be very effective in tackling this problem. A regular class activity like a discussion, debate or a role play can also be part of the assessment.
Let us now discern the advantages, which each of these approaches bring, with an example from Charles Lamb’s (Elia) essays, titled ‘The Praise of Chimney Sweepers’. The essay can be analysed for themes such as humanity, social service, child labour and discrimination due to the various strata of the society. The essay reflects Charles Lamb’s kindness and generosity, his sensitivity in being made fun of and his love for the sweepers, which overrides his sensitivity. The readers are also informed of his melancholic nature, humour, passion, sarcasm and honesty. Charles Lamb communicates, charms and influences the readers and instigates passion in the young minds. Lamb’s anecdote discussed in this essay wherein he recalls his falling on the road can be discussed and connected to the student himself to think how he would have behaved in a similar situation. It also improves the student’s character to some extent when he resolves to act like Lamb if that situation should arise. Whenever a work of literature is used to teach values, care should be taken that the author is properly justified. In this juncture, the student may be asked to write a personal anecdote and explain how his attitude had been at that time and express his concerns about changing his attitude for better. The teacher’s summing up or conclusion is very important as he/she can establish a few values. The teacher, when winding up can suggest books for further reading. It is important on the part of the teacher to mediate during a discussion, whenever there is a deviation. She could pick a few problematic students in the class who fail to participate or fail to accede to the generally accepted values and counsel them.
SOME OTHER BENEFITS
The work of literature makes an impact on the readers’ mind. Through extensive reading, a student develops his/her interest in art and monotony, boredom and ennui are overcome. Charles Lamb’s joy of living would influence the young learners to some extent and would act as a medicine to stress or suicidal instinct. The pathos, grim humour and the misfortune of the characters give the students an insight into life. The students draw strength from their characters during parsimonious situations. Aristoltle’s Catharsis, effected through tragic stories, builds the emotional competence of the student. When the students become voracious learners of literature, they identify themselves with the characters and are no more indifferent to the society. The novels of Hardy build stoicism. Indian students exposed to Indian literature start to cherish their identity.
- Value Education through literature is only one of the remedies for various kinds of erosion of human values, and there are other factors which could undermine this.
- This is an elaborate process and the results will be directly proportional to the extensive reading carried out by the students.
- There would be an increase in teaching hours to an extent. If the syllabus is normally covered in 60 hours, then 80 hours may be required for this approach.
- In a class with mixed abilities, the students with poor listening and speaking skills need to be helped out through the regional language.
Even though, the study of literature is only one of the remedies to restore the lost values in the younger generation, it attends to the problem comprehensively. It plays a vital role in the evolving of the students with character and value. If the importance of the study of literature is endorsed and more hours are devoted for this cause, apart from teaching the language, the language teacher can play the role of a value educationist through a communicative approach. The discussion and activities provide a platform for learning values in a natural way, also enhancing skill development .