Myth and Christian Reading Practice in English Teaching
American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2020 Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA
What are the myths—understood as narratives that have specific functions in our communities—that shape curricula and practices in English classrooms? I identify two in particular which have come to shape the community of English teaching: one associated with language and its functions, and another with the teaching of grammar. I argue viewing these concepts as myths might be used as a rebuttal to a kind of textual fundamentalism or literalism championed by the Common Core standards and other current education reform efforts in the US, modes of reading that have their roots in particular Christian reading practices that need more attention.
In taking up notions of myth, I draw extensively on the work of literary critic Northrup Frye (1990). What the term ‘myth’ importantly offers is that it frames English teaching in terms of larger narratives which hold especial importance to a community, as part of a broader cosmology that spans past, present, and future. Frye (2006) identifies two characteristics of myths which distinguish them from other narratives: (1) myths relate to one another and take place as part of a larger mythology; (2) they delineate and refer to a specific segment of culture, distinguishing it from others. (p. 52).
Modes of Inquiry
The piece is an analytic essay rooted in the tradition of humanities-oriented research (AERA, 2009).
In that vein, I embrace theoretical considerations of myth in literary theory and English teaching research.
Burke & Segall (2017) argue that “the very essence of standardized testing requires a curriculum based on [Biblical] testament, and necessitates a form of reading that accepts rather than challenges and that requires students to memorize rather than think, interpret, and question.” (p. 59) This particular notion of Christian, Biblical reading is made possible by the two myths I outline. To read the Bible literally requires a belief that language transmits meaning intact through stable grammatical structures that can (and should) be taught, so that that meaning can be received. Thus these myths position readers as particular types of uncritical readers.
Assuming language and grammar as mythical is in keeping with a Christian literalist orientation toward reading, with obedience to the words—and their Truth—being very much the point. Such an orientation towards reading, in turn, perpetuates and give way to these language and grammar myths. It depends on an unwavering faith that language can hold up, that we know what its meaning is and can express it in and through words and the capital W-Word. Through this lens, reading in these ways may require, disciplinarily, an enculturation into the structures (grammars) that are the forms that W/word has taken and will take.
Ultimately I make a case that thinking with myth produces critical reading practices which may help English educators respond to and resist the narrowing of English pedagogy and curriculum pushed by much current education reform.
English and Comparative Literature
Scott Jarvie. "Myth and Christian Reading Practice in English Teaching" American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2020 Annual Meeting (2020).