This course introduces prospective teachers to literature for young adults, helping them determine how to select, contextualize, and teach these texts. Our central questions are: What constitutes a “teachable” text for young adults? How do we know a great YA novel when we read one? How can we find and evaluate the most credible, useful resources to help us do this work in our own classrooms? The course also speaks to the interests of anyone who loves contemporary fiction and wishes to learn more about young adults and identity formation.
YA literature helps middle and high school students think about their identities. Students look to the characters in YA literature as they learn to negotiate their roles within their families, communities, schools, and cultures. YA literature serves a crucial purpose in young lives and fills an interesting critical space in English Studies. In ENG 237, we’ll be immersed in contemporary YA fiction, focusing on “the realistic novel,” studying its rhetorical features and aesthetic qualities. At the same time, we'll analyze the ways that these texts treat identity development (gender, class, culture, race, sexuality, and other issues), and we'll utilize a variety of critical, bibliographical, and pedagogical resources designed to help us determine what we believe is a “teachable” YA novel.
Kenneth Burke described the way we talk about ideas as an unending conversation. When we arrive at a party in progress and try to join a conversation that started before we got there, we first have to listen and try to figure out what’s going on. At some point, when we’ve picked up enough context, we can join in. And when we leave the parlor, we leave the conversation still in full flow. This is what research is like - confusing, a little scary at times, socially awkward at times, but ultimately a rewarding exchange of ideas, an ongoing event to which you are an invited guest.
Because the Web has grown up in a commerical age, we tend to think of databases as a kind of shopping platform, a place to find and consume texts. But scholars rely on tracing the conversation through references, using the online platforms mainly to locate things they have heard about. Conversation is much better metaphor for research than shopping is. A philosopher put it this way:
As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves. Of course there is argument and inquiry and information, but wherever these are profitable they are to be recognized as passages in this conversation, and perhaps they are not the most captivating of the passages . . .
Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occassions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance.
Michael Oakeshott. The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind: An Essay. London: Bowes & Bowes, 1959, 11.
Students very often begin with a Google search to get a sense of what's out there and what different approaches are being taken to a given topic. Wikipedia articles are often useful. Even better is Google Scholar or a library database that covers publications about your topic - or simply finding where the books on your topic are shelved and browsing. The following are some shortcuts for getting an overview of the conversation.
Thanks to mass digitization projects, you can dig into the contents of books online if you want to see a sample or search for a particular page. Here are some options.