Friday, January 30, 2015

Head Count: Zero

Current view from the front of my classroom. Because, really. Why would anybody think about taking a class on Spanish literature while studying abroad in Spain? That would just be silly.

Spanish departments often get pegged as "service" departments. They're places for warehousing masses of students who want an easy way to complete their language requirement because they've had some Spanish in high school or, because, let's face it, for an English speaker it is simply easier to learn Spanish and to attain something closer to proficiency in a few years than languages like Chinese or Arabic. And so there's often a defensiveness amongst the faculty members who populate those departments and an insistence — correct if, perhaps, protested a little bit too much — that this is not a place to just practice your Spanish.  But it's coupled with an insistence, to varying degrees, that literature be taught only in Spanish. There's a very delicate balancing act between insisting, correctly, upon proficiency in language, and making the content accessible and interesting.

I don't know that anywhere has that balance worked out perfectly; and so we end up losing a lot of students to this notion that first you learn a language, and then you can read literature in that language, and until then, no literature for you. It's an idea that quietly, though not at all subtly, reinforces the notion that language and literature are two separate things. And so you end up with a situation like the one I have, where there are students who are studying abroad in Spain who have no interest in taking a Spanish literature course. They're here to practice their Spanish and to learn about Spain, and literature is that other thing.

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