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The Honors Experience: EL 115H Course Description

Charles “Casey” Andrews
EL 115H: Reading in Action: Book Lovers Unite!

The focus of this introductory-level honors course is a critical investigation of literary reading in theory and in practice. The cluster of course texts that students encounter all deal with the varieties of ways that people read, asking students to evaluate their own love of literature and the usefulness of that literacy. For instance, our first textbook is Alan Bennett's lively, satirical novella The Uncommon Reader, which imagines Queen Elizabeth II falling in love with literature and eventually abdicating her throne to pursue this interest. We begin the course by exploring the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, asking if the Queen's disconnection from her royal duties is a sign of healthy political awakening or a serious moral failure. Similarly, our analysis of Margaret Edson's play, W;t, considers the capacity for literature (specifically John Donne's Holy Sonnets) to supply meaning for us as we reach life's greatest crises.

The course is organized by its attention to three major reading communities that students enter and critically analyze: the commonplace realm of casual book lovers (the realm where most literary fascination starts); the advanced professional realm of academic classrooms and scholarship (a spectrum of skilled readers who range from students in college literature classes to highbrow literary theorists and critics); and the realm of the general public beyond Whitworth (which forms the basis of our major service-learning project).

As an introduction to college-level literary study, this course pushes students beyond the typical freshman class in a few key ways. First, we read primary texts in literary theory (by Cleanth Brooks, Terry Eagleton, and Slavoj Žižek with Jacques Lacan) and use these theoretical works to frame our interpretations of literary texts. The depth and complexity of these materials present a significant challenge to students, as well as encouraging them to think critically about interpretative lenses used in professional literary study. Incorporating this theoretical material is usually reserved for upper-level seminars, but honors students are brought into these professional conversations earlier in their studies.

Students also engage with more professional genres through writing a research paper, which requires using the databases of working literary critics (MLA International Bibliography, for instance). For this paper, students' arguments must be grounded in professional debates in the field, giving them the opportunity to step into the realm of advanced academic scholarship. Leading up to the submission of their final research paper, students engage in research presentations designed to assist their collaboration and to model professional scholarly interactions.

The last realm of readership engaged through this course is the public beyond Whitworth, particularly focusing on communities of need. Students in the course create a service-learning project that focuses on literacy, story-telling, and care for the greater Spokane population. There are several site options lined up for us, some with after-school programs and other agencies working with neighborhood children, and one at the nearby Rockwood at Hawthorne retirement community. Students form groups that create projects for these sites. For instance, at Rockwood at Hawthorne, students work with residents to relate and record their life-narratives. This service-learning project creates space for discussing the possibilities as well as the limits of humanities education by challenging students to examine how their coursework relates to life in the world beyond academia.