[Milton-L] text questions

Lorayne C. Mundy mundylc at sbcglobal.net
Wed Feb 6 13:48:16 EST 2008

I can really relate, and commiserate, with most of the issues I've been 
reading from you emails on this topic...I was an "older" student when I went 
to school, (although now reaching 70 I know that is a relative term), and 
got my BA majoring in both Bus. Mgt and Lit (Milton being my center of the 
universe thanks to a professor whom I saw as a high priest offering me a new 
kingdom).  As an older student I recognize the "looks" of 
boredom/arrogance/disdain that Michele spoke of, and I also came to grips 
with the fact that this was my time, my dollar, and my last chance to sit at 
the feet of the guru and ask questions.  Now, parenthetically, in this 
latest stage of my life I am at the front of the classroom teaching 
classical lit, and there's a new element to deal with that has escalated in 
quantum leaps since my days as a student...all of them mentioned in the 
morass of emails written by my learned colleagues.

This newest generation of students not only brings the disdain of the 
classics to the table, but they don't even come equipped with the tools of 
the trade with which to deal with  a 17th century dictionary that doesn't 
apply to their scope of understanding, or the grammar skills that would help 
them discern the differences inherently found in "older" literature.. In 
fact, for the most part I find them sorely lacking in understanding what a 
vowel is, wordy sentences are a norm based on their speech patterns, and 
researching MLA in a hard cover book, in a library, is as foreign to them as 
a computer would have been in the not so distant past.  Even if you can get 
them to research on line, they dig in their heels at having to further 
research the credentials of the critic they are quoting.  Unlike, 'back in 
the day', when I was privileged to have the likes of a John Shawcross as a 
visiting lecturer on my campus, (though I have to admit he detested my topic 
of Milton as an avant guarde feminist - and I have to admit I've grown some 
since then Mr. S (:>)), we are succeeding in deleting literature as an 
inherent necessity in the education of our young.  Visiting lecturers are a 
limited expenditure in most budgets.  I understand that even in the Ivy 
League schools, mandatory courses in the classics are a thing of the past. 
Readings in Latin? Probably as rare as classes in etymology.  The push now 
is to learn Spanish, vice German or French, and outside of the fields that 
involve archaeology, learning Greek (of any period) is probably 

So I am also glad to see that along with the recognition of the pitfalls of 
this "new generational gap", there is also a love for your field that must 
needs have an impact on this new breed of students.  You have not given up. 
You bring lovely new teaching tactics to the table...like reading the first 
page of the classics and presenting it in both "languages", whetting their 
appetite, or at least making them aware of the differences.  We don't always 
have the pleasure in today's world, as I did and I'm sure you all did, of 
spending 2 or 3 semesters on Milton, or one semester on each Canto of the 
divine Dante's gift to mankind.  We are more likely to have to cram Milton 
into a course called "European Lit to the 17th century", sharing time with 
everyone from Sophocles to Shakespeare.  That's a sobering thought! And do 
you know what is the most daunting thing of all?  When I received my degree 
I was almost overwhelmed by the amount of reading I still had not 
accomplisihed when I was called a "Master" .  You all have been and are 
still out there writing, still fine-honing the view of who and what Milton 
was, and I don't know if I can ever catch up!  Think how much more daunting 
that could be to a young student today who is just starting out!

I do know that being a member of this list has given me entree into a 
private clubroom of conversation in a field I shall love until I fall off my 
perch.   I have that lovely feeling of the "fly-on-the-wall" that allows me 
to sit with a cup of tea and learn still more.  I have a daunting amount of 
folders on my computer with sources, insights, analyses, humour, trivia, and 
teaching tactics, on a topic I have loved for almost 40 years.   And it all 
helps me continually  improve on my own offerings in the classroom.  Sorry 
to bother, but just this once I felt a need to respond, and to say thank you 
for giving me entrance into these lovely halls...

Lorayne C. Mundy

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Michele Walfred" <walfred at udel.edu>
To: "'John Milton Discussion List'" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, February 06, 2008 12:23 PM
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] text questions

> It is too bad you had to force the issue but Peter you may have something
> there.. Having just finished my bachelor's at 52, I had the common
> experience of always being the oldest student in the room of
> twenty-somethings.  I annoyed the hell out of them, with my continual hand
> raising, and question asking and thoughtful comments, because, having been 
> a
> good old girl, I read my assignments and then some. I made them look bad 
> and
> if eyes could speak I would have heard their hellish hiss of resentment.
> When I first went back to school at 44, many times I didn't answer or
> participate because of that factor. After a while I got over that
> reluctance, screw it, screw them - I want my A. And I got them, over and
> over. Nothing like incentives.
> In a James Joyce senior seminar this summer (filled with majors) I sat
> aghast as a well-tanned, hair-flipping sorority type (sorry) played
> solitaire on her laptop. Text messaging friends while in a lecture is in
> progress is de rigueur. I call it rude.
> Milton is daunting. Even at age 50, when I first approached him, he was
> somewhat intimidating; the spelling, the length of PL in particular, and
> those long comma-filled sentences. I picked up my husband's Penguin
> paperback edition of PL from the 70s, with pages like potato chips, and
> thought to myself, "oh no." I can't imagine how young students react. Then
> again, as evidenced by their  classroom behavior, maybe I can.
> My personal answer was to listen to a Naxos recording of PL and follow it
> along my Riverside edition. I passed my CD around when I had to take a
> subsequent Brit Lit class I somehow skipped, PL was part of the reading
> requirement - and I shared the CD with some of my fellow students, who say
> it helped them - translation: saved their ass.  Most students didn't read
> the assignments. As we would gather to our seats before our professor came
> in, everybody would ask everyone else what they read. Most did not. In 
> this
> particular class it was a Norton Anthology (and geesh, it didn't even have
> all the books).
> I don't know what the answer is other than to offer consequences for not
> studying. They have grown so accustomed to getting away with everything, 
> but
> sadly, across the board, starting way before high school, they have 
> learned
> something we have never intended they learn.
> ~M
> -----Original Message-----
> From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
> [mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Peter C. Herman
> Sent: Wednesday, February 06, 2008 11:14 AM
> To: John Milton Discussion List
> Subject: Re: [Milton-L] text questions
> At 07:51 AM 2/6/2008, you wrote:
>>Anyhow - I find in non-majors and increasingly in majors really poor
>>vocabularies and an inability to sound out a new word.  No wonder
>>that many don't read for pleasure - how can they enjoy what they
>>can't u8nderstand?
> While this may be a chicken-egg scenario, I suspect that not reading
> leads to poor vocabulary rather than the reverse.
> But I also have a draconian suggestion: once, when faced with a class
> filled with people who had not deigned to do the reading, I threw out
> everybody except the few who had completed the assignment. But before
> I did, I announced that the next day there would be a quiz. If they
> passed, it would be worth zero. If not; 50% of the grade.
> Not only did everyone have the text read for the next class (nobody
> failed the quiz), but I never had any problems with the class not
> reading the material again.
> Peter C. Herman
>>Cynthia A. Gilliatt
>>English Department, JMU
>>JMU Safe Zones participant
>>"You have made God in your own image when God hates the same people
>>you hate." Fr. John Weston
>>Milton-L mailing list
>>Milton-L at lists.richmond.edu
>>Manage your list membership and access list archives at
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