A Document for Reflection and Dialogue
In 1979, the National Council of Teachers of English joined a coalition of other professional associations to reaffirm the value of a balanced education by endorsing a statement entitled "The Essentials of Education." As one of the organizations committed to promoting academic excellence for all learners, we as teachers of English now submit our own statement identifying the ways in which the study of English contributes to the knowledge, understanding, and skills of those who will make up the society of the future.
Essentials of English
The study of English includes knowledge of the language itself, development of its use as a basic means of communication, and appreciation of its artistry as expressed in literature. Teachers of English trace the origins of the language in the past, study its development in the present, and recognize that continuing change in the future will keep the language and the literature alive, flexible and adaptable to the highest expression of which the human being is capable.
The use of English involves skills in reading, writing, speaking, listening and observing. The development of these skills is a lifelong process. The extent to which they are developed can influence an individual's ability to become self-sufficient and lead a productive life.
Language is a subject worthy of study in itself, but language in use always exists in a setting involving people and situations. Language is a primary way individuals communicate what they think and feel. They find self-identity through language, shape their knowledge and experience by means of it, and depend upon it as a lifelong resource for expressing their hopes and feelings.
Children acquire language at an early stage and internalize much of its grammar through use before formal training in school begins. Continuing attention to language makes students aware how language functions and helps them control and use it in increasingly effective ways. Language is therefore basic to learning in all disciplines. Skillful use of language may be the single most important means of realizing the overarching goal of education to develop informed, thinking citizens.
By studying language, students should
- learn how the English language has developed, continues to change, and survives because it is adaptable to new times
- understand that varieties of English usage are shaped by social, cultural, and geographical differences
- recognize that language is a powerful tool for thinking and learning
- become aware how grammar represents the orderliness of language and makes meaningful communication possible
- recognize how context--topic, purpose, audience-influences the structure and use of language
- understand how language can act as a unifying force among the citizens of a nation
Literature is the verbal expression of the human imagination and one of the primary means by which a culture transmits itself. The reading and study of literature add a special dimension to students' lives by broadening their insights, allowing them to experience vicariously places, people, and events otherwise unavailable to them, and adding delight and wonder to their daily lives.
Through their study and enjoyment of literature, students should
- realize the importance of literature as a mirror of human experience, reflecting human motives, conflicts, and values
- be able to identify with fictional characters in human situations as a means of relating to others; gain insights from involvement with literature
- become aware of important writers representing diverse backgrounds and traditions in literature
- become familiar with masterpieces of literature, both past and present
- develop effective ways of talking and writing about varied forms of literature
- experience literature as a way to appreciate the rhythms and beauty of the language
- develop habits of reading that carry over into adult life
Communication is language in action, by which individuals participate in the affairs of society through reading, writing, speaking, listening, and using electronic media. The study of English develops fundamental communication skills that prepare students to engage in fluent and responsible communication and to analyze information that comes to them.
- recognize that reading functions in their lives as a pleasurable activity as well as a means of acquiring knowledge
- Learn from the very beginning to approach reading as a search for meaning
- develop the necessary reading skills to comprehend material appearing in a variety of forms
- Learn to read accurately and make valid inferences
- Learn to judge literature critically on the basis of personal response and literary quality
- learn to write clearly and honestly
- recognize that writing is a way to learn and develop personally as well as a way to communicate with others
- learn ways to generate ideas for writing, to select and arrange them, to find appropriate modes for expressing them, and to evaluate and revise what they have written
- learn to adapt expression to various audiences
- learn the techniques of writing for appealing to others and persuading them
- develop their talents for creative and imaginative expression
- recognize that precision in punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and other elements of manuscript form is a part of the total effectiveness of writing
Students should learn
- to speak clearly and expressively about their ideas and concerns
- to adapt words and strategies according to varying situations and audiences, from one-to-one conversations to formal, large-group settings
- to participate productively and harmoniously in both small and large groups
- to present arguments in orderly and convincing ways
- to interpret and assess various kinds of communication, including intonation, pause, gesture, and body language that accompany speaking
- learn that listening with understanding depends on determining a speaker's purpose
- learn to attend to detail and relate it to the overall purpose of the communication
- learn to evaluate the messages and effects of mass communication
- become aware of the impact of technology on communication and recognize that electronic modes such as recording, film, television, videotape, and computers require special skills to understand their way of presenting information and experience
- realize that new modes of communication demand a new kind of literacy
Because thinking and language are closely linked, teachers of English have always held that one of their main duties is to teach students how to think. Thinking skills, involved in the study of all disciplines, are inherent in the reading, writing, speaking, listening and observing involved in the study of English. The ability to analyze, classify, compare, formulate hypotheses, make inferences, and draw conclusions is essential to the reasoning processes of all adults. The capacity to solve problems, both rationally and intuitively, is a way to help students cope successfully with the experience of learning within the school setting and outside. These skills may be grouped in three major categories.
Students should learn
- that originality derives from the uniqueness of the individual's perception, not necessarily from an innate talent
- that inventiveness involves seeing new relationships
- that creative thinking derives from their ability not only to look, but to see; not only to hear, but to listen; not only to imitate, but to innovate; not only to observe, but to experience the excitement of fresh perception
Students should learn
- to create hypotheses and predict outcomes
- to test the validity of an assertion by examining the evidence
- to understand logical relationships
- to construct logical sequences and understand the conclusions to which they lead
- to detect fallacies in reasoning
- to recognize that "how to think" is different from "what to think"
Students should learn
- to ask questions in order to discover meaning
- to differentiate between subjective and objective viewpoints; to discriminate between opinion and fact
- to evaluate the intentions and messages of speakers and writers, especially attempts to manipulate the language in order to deceive
- to make judgments based on criteria that can be supported and explained
The Responsibility of Teachers of English
The study of English offers varied opportunities for the individual to mature intellectually and emotionally. We believe in basic competency in English as a means by which the individual can acquire self-sufficiency and work independently in all disciplines. We believe further in challenges to both the analytical and creative capabilities of our students.
Toward accomplishing these aims, we as teachers of English hold ourselves responsible for
- helping all students become literate and capable of functioning in an increasingly complex society
- directing them to read and view materials appropriate to their abilities and interests
- encouraging them to exchange ideas, listen perceptively, and discuss vigorously
- urging them to write honestly in the spirit of open inquiry
- helping them expand their interests and reach their fullest potential through language
By contributing in these ways, we hope to expand the capacities of the human intellect and to preserve the tradition of free thought in a democratic society.
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.