“What Do You Read, My Lord?” “Words, Words, Words”

In the fall of 2012, English 100 and 300 students will experience an English curriculum different from that of current Juniors and Uppers.

Last Thursday, the English Department voted, 19 to five with two abstentions, to do away with Andover’s traditional core curriculum of English literature. The changes eliminate the current system of required texts, remove the thematic outline of English 300 and refocus the curriculum on teaching a wider range of literature.

Based on the English Department’s overarching “Major Curricular Goals,” a document used to guide the department in its pedagogical decision making, the only requirements are that the coursework aims to satisfy the department ideal that “every diploma-requirement course seeks not only to establish competence and encourage excellence in the skills of reading, writing, and critical thinking, but also to promote essential dispositions in our students.” These “essential dispositions” include empathy, ethical maturity, self-discovery and appreciation of literature. Guidelines for course content in English 100 and 300 end there, while English 200 remains unchanged.

While the idealism of English instruction rooted not in core texts and requirements but in developmental goals is commendable, the lack of definition and structure in the new system threatens the integrity of the English Department as a whole.

In three years at Andover, students are required to take a pair of year-long courses in the English Department that, up to this point, centered around a limited but significant set of core texts. Teaching these texts, which complemented the personal selections of each teacher, brought different sections to a defined common ground, giving students a unified body of knowledge on which to draw in future English classes at Andover. Without the overarching required texts and themes, however, the English Department runs the risk of dissolving an essential element that ties all English sections together.

Now, differing English 100 and 300 sections are in danger of effectively becoming electives, connected by nothing but a meaningless course number. Unable to predict what texts these important required courses will cover, Andover students will only be able to hope that their teachers’ decisions align with their interests. They will walk into the classroom susceptible to the non-uniform expectations, requirements and intents of each individual instructor. Such a dependence on chance is simply unfair. Without tangible accountability to the goals of the curriculum, continuity between sections of the same course will be destroyed, and grading in the English Department will become even more subjective and arbitrary than it already is.

While this new endeavor of the English Department offers a meaningful approach to the appreciation and instruction of literature, the idealism of the new curriculum crumbles in the face of disparities between instructors. The new system will lead to a divided English Department, leaving students to bear the brunt of this well-intentioned but poorly constructed policy change.

The responsibility to turn this new system into something feasible, rather than an unjust game of chance, now falls upon the English Department. Define the expectations. Don’t leave students at the mercy of vague goals and “dispositions.”

This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXV.