Thursday, September 06, 2012

Canon: Dying or Expanding?

This week, I had the good fortune of attending a three-hour lecture by Charles Fadel, director and founder of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Dr. Fadel spends much of his time researching the past (to see how advancements have impacted society and at what rate) and meeting with business and technology leaders to estimate what changes are needed, and finally, offering educators best practices as they move forward.

I left the session with my head spinning, thinking of both my jobs: As English chair at my school, I am charged with determining – in terms or reading and writing – how to best prepare our 357 students for college and beyond (and how to help my colleagues achieve this). As an author, I left pondering the future of the literary canon.

The shift in the world of education is to skills-based curriculum, a leap from “What you know” to “What can you do with what you know?” When all of the edu-speak is stripped away, it boils down to asking students to do more, including reading wider and deeper. The “deeper” aspect scares the old guard. It amounts to spending longer covering fewer texts. This, obviously, means decisions to cull curricula must be made, which means some books typically read at the high school level will be chopped. (Ask yourself, for instance, how many high school kids still read Milton?)

So where does this leave the literary community? What books are safe?

This conflict has had an immediate impact on me. My 10-week detective fiction seminar typically features a classic (usually a Chandler novel) and then a couple contemporary books; the course is usually structured according to the three subgenres – amateur sleuth, P.I., and police proceedural units. I have scrapped that syllabus and am currently looking for non-North American crime writers to add to the list. (Several of my Type M colleagues fit the bill!)

In the end, where does this leave contemporary fiction writers? Given the choices educators face and will continue to face as they race into an uncertain and ever-changing future, will the canon die, or is it simply expanding? And where does all this leave crime fiction and its authors?

As an aside, on Labor Day, I had the good fortune of having my short story “Shooter” selected for inclusion in the podcast lineup at Crime City Central. I was thrilled to be included and also with the narrator's reading of my story. To listen, click here:


ernährungsplan said...
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Hannah Dennison said...

John - congratulations on your short story triumph! It's terrific.