Reading Literature in Secondary School

Disciplinary Discourses in Global Times

Authored by: Cynthia Lewis , Jessica Dockter

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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While the preceding chapters on elementary and middle school literature demonstrate the dynamic change in classroom environments focused primarily on inquiry and response-based curriculum, Cynthia Lewis and Jessica Dockter redefine what literature and reading are becoming in secondary settings. Caught between the rock of unchanging text selection and the hard place of rigid curriculum based on testing expectations, secondary English teachers struggle to find room for movement in the face of cultural change. Yet, the authors lay out a vision for loosening the grip of disciplines that are consistently and ironically disciplined by tradition, and they argue for a more dynamic pedagogy that would highlight the potential of identity formation and transformation for youth within hybrid and multimodal “redefinitions of text, language, and global citizenship.”

Nearly a decade into the 21st century, the teaching of literature in secondary school has finally reached the crossroads that some predicted in the early 1990s. In 1993 Robert Morgan proposed changes in secondary English that are still contested today because they call into question the purpose of “English” as a school subject. As scholars debated the merits of cultural literacy (Hirsch, 1987)—itself a rehashing of an age-old cultural heritage debate—versus more student-centered (e.g., reader response) or text-centered (e.g., new criticism) approaches to teaching literature, postindustrial nations in the last two decades of the 20th century were undergoing a social, economic, and digital revolution that would, inevitably, change the nature of teaching and learning. In arguing for an English curriculum centered on approaches found in cultural studies, Morgan (1993) depicted debates about the purposes of literature as leading “not to border crossings into new disciplinary formations, but to staid reaffirmations of English as a curricular form (cf. Scholes, 1991, Dasenbrock, 1989)” (p. 21).

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