Academic journal article English Education

The Territory of Literature

Academic journal article English Education

The Territory of Literature

Article excerpt

George Hillocks Jr.

June 15, 1934-November 12, 2014

Editor's Note: George Hillocks Jr. wrote this essay shortly before his death in 2014 in his role as an advisor to a research project that included his former doctoral student, Carol D. Lee, as a key investigator. This study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, is titled Project READI, and is detailed at http://ies.ed.gov/ncer/projects/grant.asp?ProgID=62&grantid=991. I edited his essay into its present form. It represents Hillocks's approach to developing a literature curriculum. Although primarily known as a writing researcher, Hillocks was interested in the whole of the English curriculum. This piece outlines the assumptions on which Hillocks believed that a literature curriculum should be based and the manner in which it should be organized to enable the scaffolding of students' learning of interpretive procedures. It was unfinished prior to editing; in addition to shaping up the paper as a publication, I added a concluding paragraph that I envisioned would correspond to what Hillocks himself might have written to finish the paper.

The curricular materials that Hillocks makes reference to have a fairly canonical ring to them. His conception relies on works included in a standard (or even highbrow) curriculum, rather than incorporating an abundance of newer, more youth-oriented texts from the young adult literature catalogue or works that deliberately try to represent the world's various races, genders, nations, age groups, and social classes. Although George was born to working-class Scottish immigrants, his literary training at the College of Wooster, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Edinburgh undoubtedly had a classical orientation. His 1959 doctoral dissertation concerned "The Synthesis of Art and Ethic in Tom Jones" and was a work of literary criticism, as was the case for many of our field's founding researchers whose training was grounded in the humanities yet whose faculty appointments were in the social sciences. His examples in this late essay reflect those sensibilities, which were undoubtedly reinforced through his joint appointment in Education and English at the University of Chicago and his association for years with the Department of English's Chicago School of neo-Aristotelian literary theory.

In spite of conducting his career within the bounds of exclusive institutions, Hillocks was no ivory-tower recluse. His teacher candidates did their practica and student teaching in a variety of South Side public schools (and occasionally the University of Chicago Lab School), many of which were surrounded by poverty and were bereft of basic instructional resources for teaching. He rarely outsourced the supervision of these student teachers to an assistant, but instead was present in the schools and well-acquainted with the challenges of teaching students living under distressed conditions. His blue-collar soul often seemed to be at odds with the elite environment in which he worked, and those who knew him well were often drawn to his pragmatic understanding of teaching realities.

Hillocks also placed a premium on thoughtful instructional planning, a value that he passed on to many decades of students he taught in Chicago's MAT program and around which he built his extensive research program. Instructional planning has its critics (e.g., Leander, 2015) who find it stultifyingly restrictive. Hillocks's notion of planning, however, defied conventional notions of structured instruction in that it provided a blueprint more than a script, and planned what students would do through activity rather than what the teachers will say as authorities.

With those issues foregrounded, I'm pleased to present George Hillocks's final work of scholarship in the hopes that it explains his vision and outlines what it would look like in practice. It would undoubtedly require modification in schools in which a curriculum is heavily prescribed to prepare students to pass standardized tests, and among teachers for whom canonical readings do not respond to the immediate needs of today's youth. …

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