Hanuman Carries the Mountain: "Anchor Works" and "Reading at Risk"
The 2004 report "Reading at Risk" from the US National Endowment for the Arts documents the precipitous decline of reading in the USA. This presentation provides one way of addressing this problem through the use of a pedagogical method called "Anchor Works." Teaching college literature courses around an anchor work trains students to read difficult texts and prepares them to read literature on their own. The NEA study also indicated that although reading literature has declined, reading electronic information has increased. The NEA chairman writes that the study “documents and quantifies a huge cultural transformation that most Americans have already noted – our society’s massive shift toward electronic media for entertainment and information” ("Reading at Risk" vii). Some readers of this report have argued that the best response to this shift is to teach students what they wish to read: electronic media. I argue that research shows that when engaged in an electronic text most people are not actually reading, but scanning for information. Literature is both a form of artistic expression and the result of human technological advances (the physical nature of the written word, printing, grammar and syntax). Given the challenges to individual privacy in recent months, and given the ways in which new technology and on-line communities (like myspace.com and facebook.com) order and systematize our student’s daily experience, it is important that professors foreground the relationship between student’s lived experience and the impact of technology. Literature, especially cultural anchor works, can do that for the students by modeling ways of seeing. If we foreground the challenges wrought by the framework of students’ experience by using literary works as exemplars, then we are teaching students to read consciously to reveal values and meaning.
Keywords: Anchor Work, Reading at Risk, NEA, Comparative Literature, World Literature
Dr. Thomas Kealy
Associate Professor, Department of Humanities, Colby-Sawyer College