I was highly put off recently by an article I read in the LA Times about a poet who believes her work (or any author's work) should not be analyzed for intent, especially on Standardized tests. In the article, poet Sara Holbrook complained about questions on the test that asks, "why she rendered one line in a poem in all capital letters" and she "argues that asking students to dissect poems isn't an effective way to teach them about the joys of literature."
There is value in dissecting literature AND asking questions about the author's intent. But then, I am a writer and an English Literature teacher, so I might be biased. Nevertheless, the article pissed me off and so did many of the comments. Students today already don't readily see the need in subjects like English Lit or algebra. It is only after they graduate and get in a "real life situation" that the necessity is revealed. Nevertheless, why would an author open her pie hole and validate their thoughts?!
So to Ms. Holbrook and anyone else who feels like poetry and prose should not be dissected and an author's intent questioned on a test, here's what I have for you:
The purpose of analyzing, or deconstructing, texts is to discover HOW a text was written AND WHY it was written (author's intent) which is important for so many reasons, but especially so that prose or poetry won't be boring, and so that the meaning can be understood.
Believe it or not, you can tell in the comments that people posted about this article who probably got good grades in English. They used quotations, all caps, sarcasm, punctuation, ambiguity, idioms...literary terms...in their own writing, correctly. And THAT'S why analysis is needed. By using these, it shows that the intent was to agree, disagree, show anger, surprise, disgust, etc., without having to state that explicitly.
Also, analysis teaches semantics of grammar: when, how and why use all caps or any syntax, to which the answer would be: to emphasize, show surprise, anger or shock. It reveals tone, the state of mind of a character (characterization), rhythm, etc., it provides imagery, paradox, oxymoron...all of which are necessary to UNDERSTAND what you're reading.
On a broad scale, writers write for one of these three intents: to persuade, inform or entertain. Readers need to know that. Ads persuade. News articles inform. Fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and drama entertain. If I didn't understand that, would I be remiss in thinking the intent of Stephen King writing "It" was to inform children that they will be killed by clowns just because they're kids? Absolutely! But because I was taught to analyze, I know the author's INTENT was to entertain. From there, students are able to make connections to real world situations, like the discovery that there's usually always something sinister in someone's past to make them lash out at the world and commit homicide, suicide or genocide. Then, they can circle back and find relevant current events or other literature that can be linked.
The ONLY thing I agree with is that a test should not measure a student's understanding. Growth of understanding is more critical. But many of the test questions are valid toward finding out whether students understand what they're reading.
Maybe Ms. Holdbrook's poetry should be removed from the test since it seems to burden her so.
PS: as a former test writer, I can attest that test questions are not "just made up" as Ms. Holbrook assumes. A lot of thought goes into those questions to, again, determine whether students understand what they are reading! *See that explanation point? You can dissect that to mean that I am yelling!*
Leave a Reply.
Blogging is my impulse to answer questions people didn't ask me and write about truths people don't want to face. From wellness to politics, sports and death, if it's "writable," I write about it!