8. Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters

by Dennis Sumara (yet another Canadian)

I don't recommend this book wholeheartedly, but it's the only one of five academic books I've read in the last 4 months worth writing about.

Sumara is mainly interested in his ideas about reading and re-reading literary texts as means to developing deep insight into the text itself and, more importantly, into self-identity. By making the familiar strange, Sumara argues, readers of imaginative literature facilitate events that can help maintain a sense of personal coherence and expand their imagined world of possibilities. He believes an important goal of education is to push the boundaries of what is considered true about the world. I agree emphatically, although I don't believe this is currently a true goal of education-- assisting in the development of imaginary thinkers and change agents-- as opposed to the more obvious goal of creating well-behaved, obedient workers and shoppers. This is perhaps partly why progressive thinkers see teaching as a subversive act.

Sumara is interested in the growth of imaginary thought, which leads to insight. “A sense of self,” he demonstrates, “emerges as much from what is imagined as it does from what is real.”

Sumara got me thinking. The exposure to and memorization of facts about the world around us are important, but imaginative literature performs a very different function. After all, what good are facts to a person denied the chances to develop an identity with which to engage and give those facts meaning? Reading literature requires one to re-examine and re-interpret ones life and create meaning.

That is all.

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