Exit Menu

Powerful knowledge', 'cultural literacy' and the study of literature in schools

I want to tell the story of a mistake which is having a destructive impact on the teaching of English literature and the humanities more widely in this country. The mistake is a philosophical error with real world in-the-class-room consequences. ‘Powerful knowledge’ and ‘cultural literacy’ have dominated education and education policy. Both have advantages, both have also provoked political controversy: generally, conservatives have strongly supported them while progressives attacked them. But this political aspect is not the focus of my talk.

Instead there is something in both ‘powerful knowledge’ and ‘cultural literacy’ at the deepest level which means they do not fit the study of English, and the attempts to make them fit are deforming the subject and its teaching. • Why do ‘powerful knowledge’ and ’cultural literacy’ not fit the study of literature?

• What ‘in-the-class-room’ damage is this doing?

• What does this tell us about disciplines and about education?

• How might we rebalance our national conversation about teaching?

• How can we fix this?

Biography Robert Eaglestone is Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London. He works on contemporary literature and literary theory, contemporary philosophy and on Holocaust and Genocide studies. He is the author of eight books including Doing English (4th ed 2017) and Literature: Why it matters (Polity, 2019) and is the editor or co-editor of ten more, including English: Shared Futures (English Association Essays and Studies: Boydell and Brewer, 2018). His work has been translated into seven languages and he has advised the UK government’s Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority, DfE and OfQual. He sits on the subject panels for English Literature for OCR and has a National Teaching Fellow Award (2014).