Virtue in the literature classroom

29th July, 2013 - Posted by Christine Perrin - No Comments

We had a wonderful discussion at CIRCE prompted by the following quote:


If all great art is symbolic of a kind of moral plenitude, of conflicting attitudes and impulses explored and worked through toward some ideal clarity, the act of reading is itself a model of ideal human relations, aspiring toward a perfect attentiveness in which emotional possession and intellectual comprehension–what experience conditions us to see and what the text insists we see–inform and alter one another.  Reading well, in other words, is symbolic loving.  Alan Shapiro, In Praise of the Impure

Here are some of the subjects that our conversation included

the teacher’s love for a book is evident
rereading is part of this effort
literature makes moral demands on us
our disposition as readers can be to “use” literature or to “receive” it
we are accustomed in the Christian tradition to approaching texts with repetition and reverence, shouldn’t this transfer to other books we read?
reading is communal, we have a tradition of shared interpretation
we can approach a book as a consumer or with some degree of anticipation that we might be changed, with some sense of submission to the author and to the book
difference between reading for information vs. transformation
do we avoid:  quick dismissal, cheap disdain, ego satisfaction, confirming our prejudices, seeking the good in the text, choosing truths over deficits
do we consider the book:  may offer wisdom that I lack, that the stony road to grasping the book may be my fault, represent it without distortion, do we weigh evidence before an evaluative judgment

So often we read to prove our commitments and ‘use’ the story to do so.  That doesn’t mean that making evaluative judgments is wrong, but it is not the first step in approaching a literary text.  Those who love books know this, those who are the road to loving books need their teachers to demonstrate this.  Reading for worldview alone or first lacks virtue and value.

Here is the book to read to expand your thinking (and teaching) on the subject:  Teaching and Christian Practices



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