Department of English
As an academic program in a military institution, the primary purpose of English Studies is to provide university-level education to officer cadets as one of the essential elements of their professional development. In meeting that responsibility, the English program is designed to foster the general intellectual development achieved through university education and the particular skills and insights derived from the study of literary culture and language. At all levels of instruction, the courses offered by the Department have three basic objectives:
- to develop clarity, precision, and maturity in spoken and written communication;
- to focus attention on the importance of cultural and social values in understanding the forces that have shaped civilization and that are shaping the contemporary world;
- to develop a flexible intellectual capacity centred around thinking skills and problem-solving abilities that can be applied to a wide range of professional responsibilities where individuals must take action in the face of concrete human problems.
Careful development of writing and verbal skills is a fundamental part of the English Studies at all levels of instruction. The utility and the portability of basic communication skills are widely recognized as desirable, even necessary, attributes of effective leadership in any professional environment. And these skills must be acquired; they are not innate. Effective written and verbal communication involves careful planning and organization, clear thinking, development of research techniques, persuasive presentation of evidence, and a strong grasp of argument, as well as the ability to employ language maturely and clearly so as to reflect the level of discourse expected among intelligent responsible people.
While the formal elements of communication may be developed through writing practice, verbal maturity comes only through the intellectual challenge of having to grapple with and comprehend the nuances of complex insights, emotions, and ideas set forth in language. In this regard, great literary works present perhaps the most demanding form of verbal communication. In reading literary works closely and critically, we engage the mind in the other, and equally important half of the communication process: listening. Critical reading is a form of careful listening, trying to understand fully what someone else is saying, so that you can respond perceptively and to the point. Like attentive listening, critical reading attempts to comprehend both explicit and implicit levels of meaning in communication. In doing so, it develops the discipline of patience, a sensitivity to emotional connotation, recognition of logical patterns, and careful analysis of argument.
The literature of the past provides us with an opportunity to appreciate our social and cultural heritage. It records the values and ideas that form the foundation of the social and cultural environment in which we exist and in which we must make decisions affecting the quality and meaning of our lives. The literature of the present is a window into the social and cultural values of the various societies and peoples that make up the world in which we must live. At the same time, it affords us insights into ourselves as an evolving social and cultural entity, moving relentlessly into an unknown future.
The English Studies program strives to demonstrate that understanding the influence of social and cultural forces in any given society is as important as recognizing the effects of political, economic, historical, and strategic realities in our efforts to comprehend the nature of that society and how it operates. In its themes and narratives, its myths and archetypes, literature imaginatively reflects the hopes and fears, the dreams and nightmares, the strengths and weaknesses of value systems, and the balance of rational logic and emotional impulse that at times inspire and at other times haunt a given society or group.
In exploring those elements, literary studies work to sensitize the student to the power that social and cultural forces exert in human decision-making, as people consciously or unconsciously attempt to affect the direction their own destinies. Through processes of critical reading, the student develops analytical tools that help distinguish and define the nature and character of the dynamic forces at play in complex human situations.
English Studies shares with other academic disciplines a concern for developing traditional linear patterns of logical analysis and evaluation. In literary studies, development of analytical thinking is linked to the acquisition of critical reading skills, and subsequently, to the demand that critical evaluation, interpretation, and conclusion be presented in the framework of a formal essay. The importance of logical structure in thought and presentation, the need to marshal appropriate evidence supporting observation and interpretation, and the necessity of offering valid argument leading to conclusion all form a basic part of the kind of intellectual development that English Studies as an academic discipline attempts to instil in its students.
Moreover, because of the nature of creative literature, the English program is also conscious of the value of exploring and developing non-linear forms of thought - intuition, imagination, and emotive perception. Such skills are particularly valuable in approaching and understanding the complexities of human problems and the circumstances in which they developed. Literature is almost always about understanding a concrete human situation in depth and finding (or failing to find) a creative and appropriate solution to the problems raised. To appreciate the complexities of circumstance and character, the critical reader must at certain points turn to intuition, imagination, and emotive response. Learning to utilize, test, and trust this form of perception develops a flexible and responsive intelligence, one that can mix objective and subjective information in the process of evaluation and conclusion.
Finally, it is worth noting that the study of literature frequently draws the inquisitive mind beyond the text and into the broader cultural environment in which that work was created. Literature is not written in a vacuum. In order to appreciate a given work, the educated reader often has to develop a working knowledge of a whole range of influences that form the context of the piece. Literature leads the student outward into the historical, political, economic, social, philosophical, psychological, moral and spiritual dimensions of the world that gave rise to that literature. This process opens up the mind and emphasizes exploratory aspects of thinking, where other forms of learning often tend to narrow attention and focus on increasingly exclusive information. While no one may expect to become an expert in a wide spectrum of human concerns, the achievement of a reasonable working knowledge of the fundamental elements of socio-cultural reality is a valuable acquisition, particularly for those who may be called upon to make decisions that have wide ranging-effects.
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