Revolution Lullabye

February 4, 2013

Scholes, The Transition to College Reading

Scholes, Robert J. “The Transition to College Reading.” Pedagogy 2.2 (Spring 2002): 165-172. Print.

In this essay, which is a revised version of a talk Scholes delivered at the 2001 NCTE conference in Baltimore, Scholes argues that teachers of English need to spend more time teaching students how to read more critically, which he defines as two related activities: 1. being able to accurately focus on the words, the language of the text and 2. understanding the author as outside the reader (as an other.) (166)

Scholes argues that this reading problem he sees as an educator is symptomatic of a larger problem of American culture: the inability of people to imagine the other – being able to listen to a person’s arguments and reasons without instantly critiquing or dismissing that argument. He contends that rhetoric depends on hearing the other, and a society that can’t understand perspectives other than their own cannot function as a true democracy.

Scholes believes that incorporating more literary criticism in the literature/English curriculum will address this reading problem becuase he believes criticism can model to students how to read and write for differences, how to interpret the other.  Scholes also notes that the task of imagining the other is rooted in rhetorical education: he cites McGuffey’s Reader (5th ed 1879) as explaining the purpose of reading as hearing the “ideas and feelings of the writer” (qtd. 167).

Notable Notes

solution must start in secondary schools, in the curriculum

importance of asking students to read things that they might not agree with – practicing listening to the arguments and reasons of the writer, not themselves.

Quotable Quotes

“The reading problems of our students can themselves be read as a symptom of a larger cultural problem.  We are not good, as a culture, at imagining the other” (167).

“I want to say that a good person, in our time, needs to have the rhetorical capacity to imagine the other’s thought, feeling, and sentiments. That is, though not all rhetoricians are good people, all good citizens must be rhetoricians to the extent that they can imagine themselves in the place of another and understand views different from their own. It is our responsibility as English teachers to help our students develop this form of textual power, in which strength comes, paradoxically, from subordinating one’s own thoughts temporarily to the views and values of another person” (168).

“If rhetoric is a schooling in textual virtue as well as in textual power, as I believe it is, this virtue consists largely in our being able to assume another person’s point of view before criticizing it and resuming our own” (169).

“The basis of an education for citizens of a democracy lies in that apparently simple but actually difficult act of reading so as to grasp and evaluate the thoughts and feelings of that mysterious other person: the writer” (171).


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