A curriculum proposal

Spanish professors, I want you to weigh in on this proposal for curriculum revision.

We now have a 300 level introduction to literature, four 400 level surveys of which students must take two, and some other 400 level electives that are topics courses.

That is traditional and reasonable but I discern problems, based on the fact that students come in with no experience in literature of any kind, including not having parents who read to them as small children, and on the weak language skills they have. The traditional introduction to literature becomes ponderous and strange in this context, as do the surveys. Furthermore, the modern surveys have much more material to cover than they did a hundred years ago. The tradition of teaching excerpts in the early surveys has always been fragmenting and superficial, and it is moreso now that students have such weak literary backgrounds (not familiar with mythology, never read fairy tales or adventure tales, and much more).

My proposal would be to replace the five courses listed above, of which students must take three, with three required courses at the 300 level: studies in prose narrative, studies in poetry and the essay, and studies in theatre and film. Professors could teach a variety of interesting texts of their choice, and teach critical approaches. We would set aside the imperative to coverage, which we do not meet anyway, and introduce literature and the culture of reading in a much more relaxed format. Courses could be organized around themes or problems of the professor’s choice.

This proposal would also, incidentally, help heal the cumbersome Peninsular/ Spanish American split.

What do you think?

Note that the best undergraduate FL curriculum I have seen was the one in French at Berkeley when I was a child. In it, you first (after the language courses) had a set of courses like the ones I propose, and then a set of other courses, some concentrated on particular centuries, and others on different literary, linguistic, and cultural topics. No cumbersome surveys. It was a lot more seamless and a lot less disjointed than the introduction-plus-survey model other languages employed, and it developed the students better.



8 thoughts on “A curriculum proposal

  1. I would love to give the introduction to literature as a course on drug war writing, for example.

    And I suppose all the courses, the introduction and the surveys, could be made markedly thematic, so that the content would not be literature itself or literary history … which are the ideas upon which this curricular model is predicated. The way to introduce people to literature, really, is to have a topic, like in Comp Lit 1A at Berkeley (which always turns out to be the brilliant model for everything, I do note).

    1. And: my mind is clear again, having figured these things and more out. I feel I have moved up in the world.

      1. About the surveys: keep in mind that these are 19th century artifacts designed to guard the nation-state and the canon. The custom of teaching excerpts in these courses, and abridged and modernized versions of longer and/or older texts so as to gain “coverage” when students’ skills are not up to reading the entire work, serves these nationalistic goals more than it does learning.

  2. P.S. There is almost nothing I like better than getting to the bottom of things, and nothing I like less than band-aid solutions.

  3. One more: That’s kind of what we did in my department — we had a curriculum we really weren’t hiring for anymore. We do have 3 gateway surveys, but they are pretty loose too as far as content and theme. We have 3 genre courses, and then upper-divison courses are in nation-period OR topic.

    Another: We did something like this: Replaced a 5 quarter survey sequence with a 3 quarter sequence, introduction to English literary traditions; American lit trad; and then a 3rd class called something cumbersome like “into to alternative critical approaches.” Best argument: It frees faculty up to teach more upper division courses rather than lower division surveys – it also moves the historical work that a survey is supposed to do (but can’t) to upper division classes where you can really go to town. It’s been a huge success.

  4. Also. Important. S.McL. from Penn State tells me language level of their Spanish majors are so low that you cannot teach a novel. This is to be considered.

  5. This sounds wonderful. I can’t imagine anybody being opposed to this plan. I’d teach in this model happily, and I know it would work.

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