[A] small water-insect on the surface of rivulets … wins its way up against the stream, by alternate pulses of active and passive motion, now resisting the current, and now yielding to it in order to gather strength and a momentary fulcrum for a further propulsion. This is no unapt emblem of the mind's self-experience in the act of thinking.
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Biographia Literaria)
There is something - many things perhaps - especially challenging about the subject English. I mean this in at least two senses. Teaching the subject is certainly a challenge for its practitioners, given its tensions, breadth and sometimes tenuous purposes, some of which have already been touched upon. More significantly in the present context it may be that, in fulfilling some of its purposes and resolving a few of the tensions, the dynamic teaching of English poses a challenge to the status quo. After all, ultimately, English deals in and with words, antithetical to the silence demanded by oppression in its various guises; as Kureishi has pointed out in an illuminating essay: 'Tyrants are involved with silence as a form of control. Who says what to whom, and about what, is of compelling interest to authorities, to dictators, fathers, teachers, and officials of whichever type' (2003:4).
Pejorative mention of teachers (and fathers) notwithstanding, it is the sense of English as implying radical intentions that will be the basis of this chapter - although, of course, seeing and practising the teaching of English in this way is, in itself, quite a challenge. There is also a sense that English, relatively unburdened by a huge body of information to transmit to its pupils, may be more free to focus on the nature of understanding and insight as the basis of knowledge; the danger otherwise, in Saul Bellow's pithy phrase, is that: 'We are informed about everything, but we know nothing' (in Nobel 1996:125). This is especially relevant in the context of the 'information-rich age' we are frequently said to be living in, and is examined more closely by McGuinn in Chapter 5 in terms of the implica-tions of ICT.