I believe that the study of imaginative literature is a crucial component of any student’s education because we learn to “read” the world when we learn to critically read texts. Not only does literature teach us to interpret, to take images and symbols as gestures towards deeper and more extensive worlds of meaning than those directly before us, but when we study literature we also learn to evaluate sources of information, how to analyze them, and how to understand multiple positions besides our own. When we learn to be responsible readers, writers, and analyzers we become engaged citizens of the world.
Such ideas are not unique to me; they are common currency in the ongoing public debate about the “value” of the humanities and a university education in general. A major in literature presents a challenge to students looking for direct connections between their studies and career path, so I take pains in my undergraduate classes to highlight where concepts and skills apply in the working world, and I go out of my way to alert students to professional development opportunities related to their studies (such as internships for course credit and events at the Career Center). Very few of my students will go on to “do English” professionally – as professors or teachers, for instance – but their degrees prepare them for a range of innovative careers and I foreground that in my classes at every opportunity.
Successful professionals in any field must be able to analyze themselves, their arguments, and their opinions; excellent communication skills, moreover, are highly prized because they are, unfortunately, so rare. My goals in the classroom encompass all these things. I want students to leave my class prepared to chart their own way through UCLA and beyond. I have three main objectives when I plan a class: I want my students to learn something tangible about the subject matter; I want to encourage them to continue learning; and I want to leave my students in a better state than I found them in, with increased and refined powers of expression, and a broader stronghold of cultural information at their fingertips.