difficult texts

The Secret of Good Humanities Teaching

The Secret of Good Humanities Teaching will be of interest to anyone who teaches difficult texts, particularly in the humanities. The hardest part for many students is getting some purchase on these texts, orienting themselves to what the texts are about. So our first step is to simplify them just enough to orient students to their main ideas, themes, or narrative arc, and then to “show the subtleties and depths,” the reasons “why the text was really worth reading — and reading carefully, and rereading.” The authors (Dettmar and Taranto) use a memorable image to underscore why hard texts are worth the labour: “the juice is worth the squeeze.” To sum up their argument in a sentence:

The best humanities professors leave students with the ability and the desire to first make a complicated text simple and understandable, and then to reread and find the complexity again.