WHAT WE TEACH, WHAT WE DON’T TEACH: SOME THOUGHTS (AND A NEW COLLABORATION)

I start here a little experiment: a series of, in principle, 5 collaborations with Cristina García Leitón, a student taking a combined BA in Spanish and English. Cristina runs her own blog, https://palabrascomosouvenir.blogspot.com.es/, and when I saw that she has a little subsection called ‘Aventuras y desventuras de una filóloga en proceso’ (within her Literature section) I got curious… After a long conversation over coffee, I proposed to her that we share one topic a month this semester, see how they sound from the point of view of a teacher and a student. Here’s the first one. See her blog for her answer.

Cristina tells me that she’d like to work for a publishing house, as she loves books both for their content and as objects to market. She knows a very young person, aged just 16, already offered an internship with a publishing house, whereas one of her flatmates, with an MA degree in publishing under her belt, is still unemployed. This leads the conversation to the many things we don’t teach in Spanish universities: creative writing, training to be a literary agent, art and culture reviewing, film studies… This sets me thinking about what we do teach.

I told Cristina that I was interested by her use of the phrase ‘filóloga en proceso’ in her blog, as I doubt most students understand what they’re training for in our language and literature degrees. We are called the Department of ‘English Philology’ but when we started the new undergrad degree the label ‘Philology’ was dropped in favour of ‘Studies’. ‘English Studies’ seems a more up-to-date label and also more Anglo-American. I still prefer it, for I hardly ever call myself a ‘filóloga’, thinking that I’m, rather, a ‘cultural and literary critic’ (in English). Actually, we Literature teachers don’t train any students, not even within the MA, in proper philological tasks, such as text editing (maybe I’ll propose that we do it), concerned as we are by teaching the basics: how to read in depth, how to write sound academic texts.

In a way, we, university teachers, look forward ideally to self-replicating. Let me explain: I don’t know how to train Cristina to access the job market for publishing, and I don’t know how to train the other Cristina I have met this week, who wants to be a writer. I believe that the competences I teach, how to read English Literature and how to write about it at an advanced academic level and in near-native English, can be applied to their dream jobs. But I realise I’m most helpful training students who want to follow, like me, an academic path. These are very few and might be none soon if we’re left with no MA and doctoral programme.

Am I questioning my own usefulness as a public servant and my very job? Not at all. I do know that I’m the icing on the cake and a strange luxury in this pragmatic world, not much interested in reading Literature, much less in a foreign language. As regards the two Cristinas, I believe that my main contribution to their professional training is guiding them in acquiring the cultural capital they need to become a good editor/publisher or a good writer. If it were up to me, I’d offer indeed a degree focused on Literature: how to read it, write it, edit it, review it, sell it and study it. But it’s not up to me as I’m working within a philological tradition that, like all traditions, has much dinosaur DNA in it.

Just think about this: I first visited the UAB Campus almost 30 years ago to ask whether they offered a ‘Licenciatura’ degree in Film Studies, which is what I wanted to take (with the vague idea of becoming a specialised scholar and also, maybe, a documentary filmmaker). They still don’t offer one… nobody in Spain does. And, let’s not kid ourselves, in the end ‘English Studies’ is the old ‘English Philology’ just with a more appealing label. I failed spectacularly even to introduce a Film Studies elective in it…

So, Cristina, let’s see what you are getting from us, Literature teachers.

2 thoughts on “WHAT WE TEACH, WHAT WE DON’T TEACH: SOME THOUGHTS (AND A NEW COLLABORATION)

  1. Your post and Cristina’s are both very interesting – I look forward to future collaborations!

    Personally, I don’t think you should expect your first degree, or any degree, to give you all the training you’ll ever need. I loved my time as an English Philology student (I graduated in 2007) and I think if I could turn back time, I’d still choose the same path. What I wish I’d realised earlier, though, is that a degree isn’t enough. For example, I wish I’d started getting work experience much earlier (I started in my last year).

    I realise that other degrees (Traducció, Magisteri…) are more specific in what they’ll make out of you, but English Philology never seemed oriented towards specific professions. Even if you want to become a teacher, you need further training; so do you if you want to do anything else, really.

    As for what you should do for your students – you’re a literature teacher (and a very good one!), so obviously you teach them literature. Being able to read and understand a text is a necessary skill – and most of your students aren’t native speakers. The department could perhaps offer modules that train students in other areas, but at the end of the day it’s up to them to decide what training they want or need – and to start getting experience ASAP.

    The other thing is that while some students know exactly what they want to do when they’re 18, we’re not all so lucky. I started “English Philology” because it sounded more interesting than any of the other options I was considering. I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher until later on. Now I’m 28 and I’m considering other career options that I didn’t even know about when I was 18, or even a couple of years ago! English Philology gave me a head start, but I’m far from done.

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