Which literature to leave out?

A question on the final
Argue for leaving a single work out of the next iteration of this class based on moral, aesthetic, and literary considerations.

Rationale for the question
One of the learning outcomes on the syllabus says, “Students will recognize and be able to enumerate the aesthetic, moral, and intellectual values of literature.” I figure if they can argue against something, they can also argue for something, though that might not be true.

The answers
“The Miller’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales was the clear winner of the “leave this out” category. Most objected based on the morality and its level of difficulty in reading. (I am fairly sure everyone objected to the difficulty in reading level, but most talked of other issues. They were writing for an English teacher, after all. They know their audience.)

Writings by Margery Kempe received the next highest ranking for being eliminated from the syllabus. Most of the arguments were poor, based on “Why did we read this?” or “I don’t remember anything at all about this work.” (As if student memory, or even mine, determines the importance of a work.)

The most interesting vote was for the elimination of John Donne’s poem “The Flea.” This student primarily argued based on the moral implications of the poem. However, if I were able to direct a discussion well, I think this poem offers interesting insight into the seduction process that might be useful/interesting to modern students. Usually, unfortunately, time would be against me.

My response and rationale
I will probably leave out “The Miller’s Tale” next class. And maybe I will leave out Margery Kempe as well, though I think her writing is an interesting juxtaposition to Julian of Norwich’s Showings. But I will continue to include “The Flea,” though I think the morality of the poem is poor, because I want the students to know that … they did not invent sex. Plus, it’s kind of funny to watch their grossed out looks!

I am never quite sure what to do about Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales. Some students, it used to be most, have already read these works or at least part of these works when they arrive in my class.

I love teaching Beowulf enough that every year I consider leaving it out and every year I don’t.

However, The Canterbury Tales is in our book in Middle English. This makes the work extremely difficult to read, even with glosses on many words. The book can’t gloss all the words and sometimes the meaning of the sentence is lost to the students.

It seems like I should not leave out Chaucer, but the work is difficult to read. And how can the students comment on the literary qualities of works if I only give them easy things to read?

It’s an issue I am still struggling with. Feel free to give me your thoughts on the issue.

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