As Time magazine writer Annie Murphy Paul says in the title of her June 3 column: “Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer.”
Reading fiction also prepares us for life, Gottschall says: “Stories universally focus on the great predicaments of the human condition... Like a flight simulator, fiction projects us into intense simulations of problems that run parallel to those we face in reality.”
Fiction also introduces us to other cultural world views, giving us opportunities to see how others view our world and ourselves.
This is one of the most exciting aspects of the graduate program my colleagues brought into being. Students of this program will have an opportunity for immersion, via English-language cultural productions, in the cultures, histories and societies of Asian Pacific Rim nations, from Singapore to India, from the Philippines to New Zealand.
The focus upon English-language fiction gives students another important advantage, one easily recognized by the many Taiwanese academics and teachers who consider themselves adherents of the work of Stephen Krashen. Famous for his theories of language acquisition, the University of Southern California linguist and educational activist has been a strong advocate of reading fiction for pleasure.
Extensive reading in a pleasant state of mind is a key to learning a new language. Enjoyable fiction that is neither too difficult nor too easy for language learners builds on the use of context and inference to help students acquire the English language naturally. Better yet, Krashen says, extensive reading improves all aspects of a student’s language-related skills, from writing to speaking, with improvements in both vocabulary and grammar.
It is a gross misconception that students of literature would be better off preparing themselves for careers with profession-focused studies, when in fact, a deep engagement with literature is equal to preparing them for life in all its unexpected complexities.
As any intelligent manager or employer can attest, the most important professional skills are learned on the job. This is only natural. Paul said in her Oct. 19, 2011, column that hands-on learning projects do a far better job of training students than typical lecture-centered approaches. She pointed to the example of a 2009 study in which two groups of eighth-grade learners were introduced to the same topic of water purification. One group learned through lectures, handouts and worksheets; the other built an actual water purifier. Of course, students in the second group learned the subject better, engaging the topic “in deeper and more complex thinking.”
Is this not what Feng Chun Group chairman Chang Hung-chia (張宏嘉) said last week when he noted that not every high-school graduate in Taiwan has to go to college in order to achieve a successful career? It only stands to reason that students coming out of a literary studies program, equipped with both stronger emotional intelligence and advanced English language skills, would be more capable of impressive leaps of learning in on-the-job training sessions.
It is inconceivable that employers would be unable to appreciate the student of literary studies, who has been prepared for life and career, ready to grow on the job in any profession — from marketing to diplomacy, publishing to public relations.