Did you ever have the feeling your English teachers were full of BS?

Ian McEwan on his novels as A-level set texts: ‘My son got a very low mark’ - video

He’s an amusing guy.

All the English teachers I’ve heard claim, at least, to grade on whether you provide a good argument/evidence for your interpretation, not on whether it agrees with theirs.

when I was in high school, I wondered about the interpretations we were taught. Like did that author really intend that the rope symbolized the character’s struggle, or was this something just made up by generations of English majors and the author just intended the rope to represent a rope. And then when we read Billy Budd, the homoerotic subtext seemed pretty blatant to us but the teacher denied it.

Feeling, nothing. I knew damn well my old High School English teacher was a dolt!

He spelled “subtle” as “suttel.” His example of a simile was “The rock was like hitting a brick wall.” He reversed the definitions of syntax and semantics. He didn’t comprehend the literary purposes of ellipses and dashes, and he didn’t know how to use a semicolon.

It should have been “As subtle as the letter B in the word ‘subtle.’”

Because you can always generalize from one example to every teacher in the history of the world. :smack:

I know that, as far as the professional interpreters of the visual arts go, the intent of the artist is irrelevant to the meaning of the art. It doesn’t surprise me that the same holds true with the written word.

Sometimes. It seemed that my high school teachers could find the Holy Trinity in almost anything. So I started to do the same thing with some of my favorite television shows. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy & Luke, Han, and Leia were obviously holy trinities.

Sometimes I thought they were full of BS. But, to be fair, I’ve actually written academic papers and thought to myself “Do I really believe this or is it all a bunch of bullshit?” Sometimes I wasn’t sure but I did support my arguments.

I well remember my English teacher’s explication of Ogden Nash’s The Lama in freshman year of Catholic high school, which was one of the first examples in our English literature textbook.

*The Lama

The one-l lama,
He’s a priest;
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.*
He explained that there was a progression of levels in the poem, from the one-l lama, a priest, on the highest or heavenly level; to the the two-l llama, a beast, on the material or Earthly level; to the three-l llama, on a level below the material, that is, Hell. He said the author was betting all he owned (his pajama, without which one is naked) that Hell didn’t exist.

I couldn’t figure out at the time whether he was serious, or putting us on by demonstrating to us that you could put a fancy interpretation on literally anything. He was a pretty smart guy, though, so I think it was the latter.

Why should it have surprised him? If he’s ever shown his work to anyone else, he knows that his intentions don’t necessarily agree with the reader’s interpretation–and the reader might have a better sense of the writer’s unconscious processes and preoccupations than the writer does.

/writer and former English teacher

I well remember my English teacher’s explication of Ogden Nash’s The Lama in freshman year of Catholic high school, which was one of the first selections in our English Literature textbook.

*The Lama

The one-l lama,
He’s a priest;
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.
*

He explained that the lama represented the heavenly realm; the llama represented the material realm, or Earth; and the lllama was the realm below the Earthly one, or Hell. He said that the author was betting everything he owned (his pajamas, without which he would be naked) that Hell didn’t exist.

I couldn’t figure out at the time whether he was serious or whether he was just trying to show us that symbolism could be found in anything by making up a ridiculous example. He was a pretty smart guy, so I think it was probably the latter.

My ninth-grade English teachers gave us spelling tests. Every week. In ninth grade.

It’s that sort of thinking that made me have little respect for English Literature as a subject; I ended up completing the degree, but by the end, I thought it was a LOT of BS personally.

One my HS English teachers used Romeo & Juliet as an example of the dangers of premarital sex. :dubious:

Reminds me of the scene in Back To School where Rodney Dangerfield hires Kurt Vonnegut to write his paper on Slaughterhouse Five and gets a low grade.

This. Teachers at this level are rarely concerned with your theory (which is probably pretty bad, considering it’s coming from a high schooler). They want to see that you can structure an essay and use evidence to support your claims.

Now, of course there are plenty of bad English teachers out there, but my English teachers have almost exclusively been of this form (the only exception would be back in elementary school.) In fact, I would say they preferred novel interpretations that are supported by the student’s writing and the text to getting back a paper with their thoughts parroted back to them.

I ended up with a degree in English kind of serendipitously (long story), and I wasn’t much a fan of English as a subject before I majored in it my last year in college. A good bit of it did strike me as BS, but the idea that the author is not necessarily the best interpreter of their own work is not without merit, I think.

I agree that the idea has merit. My reasons with not liking English as a school subject have more to do with trying to make it into something it is not meant to be. I felt that there was too often the need to come up with far fetched interpretations. To make a contrast, in the sciences, even the soft sciences, an idea has to be tested in the real world and there is more of an ability to find a more right or wrong answer. In Literature there is no real right or wrong answer necessarily, but the demands of having it for a graded subject require fitting what you think into a gradable paper. I read extensively, I probably have read 4 times as much literature outside of school. I just find that Literature can be a great way to expand your mind and your views but trying to fit it into an academic structure creates a situation that breeds a lot of what I consider to be BS.

all humanities are BS at least to some.

you need to please the teacher.

Truth is beauty, beauty truth, sir!

Let me guess: You skipped class on the day they taught how to avoid run-on sentences.