Saturday, January 23, 2016


Fascinating and yet still to be recognized by the school system


You will know practically from the start that this book is written by a woman and that this LitClub was devised by this woman. It is tremendously feminine and that is what surprised me in such a project because I would have thought it did not have to be feminine. And yet it is. She only speaks of the mothers associated to the young people she brings into her home for this LitClub. Each monthly meeting integrates a meal and the meals are prepared by the mothers on a rotation basis. She mostly speaks of child and children but very often that child is a “he” and though there are some girls among the testimonies and two girls out of six people in the picture on the author’s site w

And that’s what I want to say straight away. This initiative proposed and presented here does NOT have to be carried by a woman. A man can carry the same initiative though it will have to be more masculine and the fathers of the kids should be also associated. The assertion that love is an essential dimension for the success of this enterprise would be true with a man facilitator even if that love would take another dimension. After all since the author likes quoting Genesis 1, I could say that God as a masculine figure is capable of love too, though in such an enterprise it could be more difficult for a man to say that “I love you and your children. I love everything that happens when we are together at LITClub. I love the conversations. The meals. The projects. The laughter. The growth. The Friendships.” This is really feminine and though men are capable of love the very same way they would not express it in these words.

But this enterprise has to be seen as an alternative to standard school work on literature. It has to happen outside school, so in a private home. It has to integrate the literary work within an evening with various activities like games or music and one meal. She tremendously insists on the meal (very motherly indeed: a man would insist on a drink and maybe a snack). And yet I have a long experience of things that are not standard school work happening in schools, in some classes. It is true it is more difficult but it may happen. But no matter whether it happens at school or off campus one dimension is essential: if the relation between the participants is not in a way emotional and personal (what she calls “love”) it could not be successful. Children and even adults, with variations according to age and sex, need an emotional and personal relationship with the people around them when engaging in a common experience. The school system has banned love from school work and in recent years (not so recent actually since it has been going on for at least twenty years if not more) the obsession about sex abuse has made love suspicious, which is the silliest thing imaginable. We brutally shifted from blindness toward the minority that was abusing the kids (boys or girls) to the total banning of any physical contact, of any emotional exchange, what Freud called tranference.

And this book is the living proof every step of this procedure requires a personal involvement that necessarily has an emotional dimension. If we only use the term “friendship” that goes against the standard remark that teachers are not the friends of the pupils not the pupils of the teachers. You can imagine what it would become if we used the word “love?”

After this first remark we can turn to the enterprise itself and the great value it contains in its objective and layout.

The author is targeting junior high school and high school students including special college level classes for high school students who try to get ahead of their future college years. The objective then is English literature as commonly define, what’s more in chronological historical order. Apart from Ancient Greek literature the books that are quoted here are from white authors and I am surprised there is not any black author. I was the first professor to introduce a black novel in the syllabus of English 3 Initiation to English Literature at UC Davis in California so long ago I don’t remember it (or nearly don’t) and I am a deep believer in diversity, including in literature. But that is a side remark, and maybe I have not looked into the question with enough care. She seems to stop with Tolkien and The Hobbit. I would certainly not classify Dickens in the Renaissance and Shakespeare in Medieval literature but those are details.

She insists on “classics” and there are 20th century classics like Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison or The Dark Tower by Stephen King. There are even some genres that had never or nearly never existed before the Second World War and “modern science fiction” as Ron Hubbard would call it started with him as an order from a science fiction magazine publisher some time around 1936. Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World or Animal Farm (I seem to remember her quoting it once) are also classics.

But her approach, which she started for her own kids who had difficulty with reading (dyslexia), is a lot more interesting than it looks and can be clearly defined in some simple principles.

1-       The experience must take place outside school time and school standards and norms;

2-       The experience concerns young people under 18 (though it could also concern older people);

3-       The kids are accompanied by their mothers (though they should also be accompanied by their fathers);

4-       The evening starting around 4:00 pm and lasting up to 8:00 or 9:00 pm includes a meal (prepared on a rotating basis by the mothers, and it could be by the fathers or even the mothers and the fathers), some playful activities and a one to two hour literary session, the LITClub per se;

5-       The literary monthly activity concerns a book chosen by the group itself but within the definition as a classic. It is prepared in many ways by all the participants with various tasks and assignments;

6-       The facilitator presents the “lesson” that has to be at te most 15 minutes giving the context (history, author and culture);

7-       The main course is a conversation but this conversation is defined as re:Conversation meaning “If the result of good communication is the transfer of ideas and not a debate to prove ideas to be right or wrong, then learning how to talk about ideas in a respectful and effective manner is paramount.” Re:Conversation is a conversation in which what everyone says is of equal value and the objective is to exchange and integrate the ideas of others in order to build your critical thinking:

8-       There is only one rule: “You may never, ever, ever make fun of, snicker at, roll your eyes at, say or do anything that makes another person feel small, insignificant or stupid”;

9-       THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT: the objective is a project that can go from presenting the book from one’s point of view remembering that there is no truth but only points of view, to designing a poster for a film or a show adapted from the book and a puppet adaptation or a story in the style of or on the pattern of the book. This practical objective is both creative and physical: the participants have to invest themselves in that project from beginning to end;

10-   She mentions this point but does not insist enough on it. It can concern everyone, even people who hate reading because it has to be multimedia: recordings of the book in the shape of an audio book, videos of performances of the plays concerned, various possible adaptations of the books to the cinema or television, why not to the theater, as a ballet, as a symphony, as an opera, etc. Such work would open the existential palette of the works themselves. Think of for instance having the kids prepare, rehearse and perform scenes of any play available, and then get into various adaptations of the said play, etc. Think of Romeo and Juliet for example. I have done it and within a school organization, though I used the local museum as the performing structure because they had a beautiful inside staircase that was perfect for the balcony scene that all the students wanted to perform (two girls, two boys or one boy and one girl, their choice, and they took advantage of it).

So when you look at this project, at this enterprise, at this pedagogical action you can only approve and you will particularly like her principle that these actions have to be adapted to the kids, to the works and to the inspiration of the group and the moment. That’s why I will conclude on the fact that the author should really think of including the fathers.

Enter this field of rich pedagogy and don’t be shy or bashful. Try it in school and off campus, with your students or any group of kids in any institution or home and do not forget that Love is essential and you cannot succeed if you do not get a little help from your friends.


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