Student Survey Results

What do the students think?

From Paul Smith:

"About eight years ago, as the Heath Anthology project was just getting started, I called on two professors of American literature at a large, respected Boston-area college. Both were white male associate professors in their late 30s. I asked them two developmental questions: 1) How much women's writing ought to be included in this anthology? and 2) Should we include The Scarlet Letter in its entirety or, to save pages, represent Hawthorne with eight to ten tales?

Professor A's response: Since about half of my students are female, I find that they demand a significant number of women writers be included on my syllabus, and I think they're right. As for The Scarlet Letter, all of my students have read it in high school, so the tales would be fine.

Professor B's response: I've never had a student make any "demands" on me to teach a particular kind of literature. I have to create a syllabus for them that will teach them what's important. And while it's true that all of my students have read The Scarlet Letter before, they've never read it with me in a college class, and they get something new out of that experience."

This past fall, we enclosed a student survey with newsletters mailed to users of the Heath Anthology. Publishers do not often hear directly from students, and we wanted to gather students' impressions of the text. Instructors from twenty-seven colleges and universities distributed surveys to their students and sent back the results to us; we received a total of 488 student surveys. Overall, students' responses were thoughtful and well-considered. We asked students if they found headnotes and introductions helpful; most students responded that they appreciated the historical and biographical context afforded. We also asked students how they felt about the wider inclusion of women writers and writers of color in the Heath Anthology; most were in favor, some passionately so--but many offered the qualification that selections must be examples of excellence regardless of their authorship.

For one question in particular, we tabulated the responses, as follows:

As topics informing the study of American literature, how important to you are the following: gender issues, class issues, African American literature, Native American literature, Asian American literature, Hispanic literature, women's literature, religious heritage issues, gay and lesbian literature, and other. (Circle one for each, where 5= Extremely important and 1 = Not at All Important.)

On average, students rated Class Issues and Women's Literature (each 4.2) and Gender Issues (4.1) the highest (all between Extremely and Very important). These three are followed by African American Literature and Native American Literature (3.9 each), Religious Heritage issues (3.5), Hispanic Literature (3.4), Asian Literature (3.3), and Gay and Lesbian Literature (2.8, between Somewhat and Not Very Important.)

Here is a sampling of comments from the students:

"By expanding the canon of literature, a person can learn to be more open minded to new situations and maybe not so prejudiced."

-Amy Hill, Ferris State University

"I feel it is important to show that America was not just made by white men but by members of all races."

-Kristi A. Miller, Ferris State University

"I feel women writers have not been taken seriously enough in years past; the Heath Anthology explores these writers when others have not."

-Matt Mogol, Babson College

"A variety of points of view brings a reader closer to the truth (or at least reality.)

-Craig Porter, Babson College

"I think that not to support the effort to expand the canon of American literature is ignorant."

-Student (name not disclosed), Santa Clara University

"A canon stuck to rigidly does not allow for a full spectrum of learning."

-Eric Resler, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

"I don't think works should be judged by their author, but rather by their content. Leave politics to the public sector. Leave literature study in the schools."

-E. P. Stanton, Humboldt State University

"I never would have found, nor even sought, these readings on my own. I have benefitted greatly from them!"

-Smokey Pittman, Humboldt State University

"I grew up hearing the voices of white male Protestants, and what I've heard from them doesn't even come close to the world in which I live!"

-Amie C. Martin, University of Massachusetts, Boston

"White males were hardly the only people who made this country what it is, so they should share room with all the other authors in collections of American literature."

-P. J. Flaherty, University of Massachusetts, Boston

"America is a melting pot of histories and societies. We need to learn more about them to understand ourselves and our heritage."

-Amy Jo Nordall, University of Wisconsin--Marathon Center

"We had to go through the text too fast but I know I will use this text for years to come as an English teacher."

-Name not disclosed, California State University, Stanislaus

"You can get the "normal" literature in any textbook. Times have changed and so has literature. It is important to continue to discover literature that has been neglected for this reason."

-Name not disclosed, American University

"I would like to see more literature that is obscure to get more than the same traditional views of American literature presented in all courses. I want to see the different parts of American literature."

-Michelle Sasso, American University

"All in all, this anthology is priceless and represents the different time periods and styles well."

-Jason McIntyre, Florida State University

"The face of America will remain ugly if we don't have more understanding of each other."

-Lisa M Collard, Florida State University

"I agree with the statement in your anthology that American literature was multi-vocal from the start and should be studied as such."

-Marcella M. Bush, Florida State University

"In light of recent racial tensions and gender issues facing this country, education is the best way to break down stereotypes and enlighten the narrow-minded among us by showing what has been accomplished by minorities."

-Name not disclosed, Shippensburg University

"I think it is very important to include literary representatives from all walks of life, color, and gender in an effort to expand the canon of American literature; each individual has a unique point of view of the American experience."

-Kimberly A. Jackson, Shippensburg University

"I was surprised to see such variety in the anthology. It's important to study a variety of authors because America is variety."

-Jill Haarsma, Northwestern College

"The spectrum of American literature studied should continuously be broadened. I don't believe focus should be aimed at any specific category."

-Sean McAvoy, Cochise College

"This book, and course, is also a great history class. Although I won't be taking the second lit. course, I will be purchasing Volume 2 for my own enjoyment."

-Vince Schiffert, Niagara County Community College

"I feel it is a crime that it isn't until my early twenties that I have been exposed to the wide range of black, Native American, and hispanic authors writing at that time. Take the power you have and push for these authors to be incorporated into elementary, middle, and high school books as well."

-Judi Smith, University of Washington

"I was ambivalent towards particular issues; the Heath raised good points and clarified particular views."

-Tanya Fabian, University of Washington

"I think equal importance should be given to all characteristics which make us different to better reflect a country made up of all different types of people."

-Brooke Miller, Long Beach City College

"I commend your courage in dropping the presupposed notion that the only creditable writers were `white men from New England'."

-Paul Joseph Samson, Long Beach City College

"Without expansion of the canon of American literature, the expansion of the American mind will suffer."

-T. Cassler, University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

"Women have always played a large part in history and in literature. To leave them out would be a crime."

-Andrew Eberhardy, University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

"I wholly support the expansion. It makes me sick that women and people of color have been left out of literature by prejudiced editors."

-Joanne M. Wollet, University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

"The Heath Anthology is a great melting pot of authors bringing different views to the reader creating a well-rounded individual. In this case, too many chefs did not spoil the broth.

-Rory Weber, University of Wisconsin--La Crosse

(If you are using the Heath Anthology and would like to distribute a Student Survey in your class, please indicate your willingness on the response card with this newsletter. We'll send one to you right away.)

Contents, No. IX