What a treasure awaited me on the other end of the click. Louise Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt whose books burned their way into my consciousness as a reader and as a teacher. Rosenblatt who caused that light to go on over my head when it comes to response and reading. Rosenblatt who still needs to be the cornerstone of what we do with books and reading and literary studies.
This is the "acid test" for teaching literature. Written in 1956, the chapter opens with these sentences, "This is a critical hour for the teaching of literature in the schools of America. Many of our high school and college graduates, it is being demonstrated, have not developed the habit of reading literary works." Sound familiar?
Rosenblatt proceeds to discuss why it is essential that we know the value and benefit of response to literature. Take these two simple sentences: "But books do not simply happen to people. People also happen to books." It is this transaction that some "experts" in the reformist movement seems to forget. The PERSONAL nature of response is key. Before we can select books, before we can proceed with lessons, before we can teach, we need to understand this personal aspect of response. All too often, I was guilty of telling a student that he or she needed to give the book another chance. And it is true that none of us should abandon a book too quickly. However, there are books I still abandon. I give them a good try, but they are not for me YET or at that moment or perhaps not at all. We often do to offer the same permission to abandon to our kids.
Next, Rosenblatt suggests this, "Surely, like the beginner, the adolescent reader needs to encounter literature for which he possesses emotional and experiential “readiness.’’ A colleague recently listed the text read by her high school child. It was a veritable panoply of intensely dark stories. Imagine having to exist on a steady diet of tragedy with nary a comedy in sight. Imagine ever worse having to make sense of tragedies in which the central figure shares NOT ONE THING with you as a reader. Imagine how much energy and enthusiasm you would bring to this. Rosenblatt knows this and notes, "A process of growth is involved. To initiate that process, each young reader needs works that his own past experiences and present preoccupations enable him to evoke with personal meaningfulness. Without this, literature remains something inert, to be studied in school and henceforth avoided."
There is much more to mine from this chapter. Much to chew on. Much to discuss. Much to even debate. This is the rich nature of Rosenblatt's work. But now it is time for me to delve back into a text, to see myself and my experiences reflected therein, to RESPOND to the book as it happens to me and I to it.