Literature Education as Normative Practice: the Case of the Netherlands

Submitted by: Jeroen Dera
Abstract: Keywords: identity, literature education, gender diversity, cultural diversity

As noted in the Call for Papers for this conference, it is through the mediating function of language that identity is built. This awareness lies at the heart of many secondary school literature curricula, that often engage students in questions related to what it means to be human. In this respect, reading literary texts in classroom contexts might help students in shaping their own identity. At the same time, the institution of literature education itself can be considered as a crucial actor in the process of identity formation, for it provides the social context in which identities are shaped and performed.

In this contribution I analyze literature education as a normative institution that articulates poetical and ideological positions towards literature in general and identity in particular. The literary texts that are selected and discussed in language classrooms implicitly and explicitly shape discourses on gender, ethnicity and authorship. In my presentation, I will address this mechanism through data collected in three interrelated studies, conducted in the field of literature education in the Netherlands:

1. A survey study among teachers of Dutch (n=197), focusing on their own reading habits and their knowledge of contemporary novels.
2. A survey study among Dutch secondary school students (n=1616), focusing on their reading habits and the literary texts they selected for their literature exam.
3. A content analysis of Dutch schoolbooks on literature, focusing on the gender and cultural diversity of the selected authors.

Because the data each cover a different actor within the educational system (teacher, student, textbook), they provide a broad overview of the institution. Statistical analysis of the data shows that Dutch literature education reproduces inequalities related to gender and ethnicity: texts of both female and non-western authors are underrepresented in the text selection of both teachers, students and textbooks. This implies that educational professionals in the Netherlands should pay more attention to text selection processes when fostering democratic identity formation.

References (selection)
- M.W. Apple, Education and Power. New York, 2011 [1982].
- J. Dera, ‘De lezende leraar: Literatuuronderwijs in Nederland(s) als onderzoeksobject’. TNTL 134 (2018) 2, pp. 146-170. [‘The Reading Teacher: Literature Education in the Netherlands as Object of Research’]
- A. Haertling Thein, R. Beach & A. Johnston, ‘Rethinking Identity and Adolescence in the Teaching of Literature: Implications for Pre-Service Teacher Education’. In H.L. Hallman (ed.), Innovations in English Language Arts Teacher Education (Advances in Research on Teaching, volume 27). Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 65-87.