Before anyone can outline a philosophy of teaching English, we must have a basic agreement on what the subject of English should be in the 21st century. Apart from the basic literacy that enables one to function fluently in a society dominated by the English language (which will actually become more important as the number of students who are English as a Second Language learners is ever increasing with increasing immigration) what are the significant aims and skills that students are supposed to acquire from learning English? I believe the aims should be less about the traditional canonical literature and focus more on a) inspiring literacy in students by having them read and write on texts that interest them and b) how to read, write and critically engage with the multiple methods of communication that exist now.
A major issue identified by Nelms and many others in the 1990's is “the increasing number of alienated students” (Nelms 54) in schools. Having been a student in both the 1990's and the 21st century this issue has not been addressed in any significant way. Learning of any kind is made difficult if there is such a strong disconnect between the teacher/education system and the learner and taking anything from the Dialogic Curriculum approach or reworking things from it, would at least be a step in the right direction. This alienation must be partly (if not more) caused by the stagnant, literature heavy canonical core of the English curriculum that has proliferated for the last 100 years. This is informed by Eagleton's musings on literature and his assertion:
that the value-judgements by which it is constituted are historically variable, but that these value-judgements themselves have a close relation to social ideologies. They refer in the end not simply to private taste, but to the assumptions by which certain social groups exercise and maintain power over others. (Eagleton 14)
This issue of ideological power held by a dominant group over others plays into the students alienation. People will disengage with subjects unrelateable to them or that they see as serving groups that already hold power over them, even if it does not manifest itself so directly.
Once engaging learners of English is improved upon it is paramount that the ability to disseminate the large variety of texts that we encounter, and to be able to think critically about them should be the next significant aim. This is working off of Scholes' idea that “students should learn to read a wide range of texts, from various times and places, and in various genres and media” (Nelms 57). The reality of reading today is that the vast majority of it will not occur within the traditional confines of paper in hand books, and if we only prepare people to engage critically with one or two kinds of text when they engage with such a multiplicity of texts every day, then we are failing to produce even the basic literacy component of English in the wider education system. While the ideas of enthusiastic engagement and critically engage all different kinds of texts are not exhaustive by anyone's calculations, they remain important places Teaching English has faltered in and starting my philosophy on teaching English on them seems extremely pertinent.