As I began to read Erick Keleman’s “Critical Editing and Close Reading in the Undergraduate Classroom,” I was intrigued with his introduction of using textual criticism in the undergraduate classroom. Textual criticism, defined partly as a “critical editing… [a] process of preparing a work for publication that begins with critiquing that work’s available evidence (textual and otherwise)…” is a thorough editorial critique of a text. Generally reserved in the graduate classroom, Keleman is asking his readers to consider this praxis in an undergraduate classroom. He suggests that having students edit, part of which would involve finding evidence and support, is foundational to close reading. Keleman makes a strong argument for implementing textual criticism in an undergraduate classroom because it builds critical academic and emotional skills, such as student empowerment and finely tuned critiques. In short, it creates thinkers.
An examination of the text through an editorial lens would force the reader to proofread, and more importantly it would enhance advanced critical thinking skills, such as analysis and evaluation. But, as Keleman states, it would also add to creative thought. As I have mentioned in prior blogs, critical reading is the impetus to creativity and imagination. It is only when we deeply understand a text that we can then analytically respond to and then gain ideas from it. Reading for editing causes readers to look at rhetorical patterns, “conjunction and disjunction,” arguments, evidence, so the reader can begin to make interpretations.
Keleman addresses the benefits of textual criticism as an opportunity to examine any text, particularly a challenging or unfamiliar piece, as a way to gain knowledge. He asks his readers to embrace this “uncertainty” about the text. Confusion, challenges and difficulties can be a productive and positive start that leads the reader to an intimate understanding of a text. But Keleman also states these difficult texts are also ones that influence new ideas. This place of uncertainly when encountering a challenging text is similar to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset concept. Dweck’s concept also begins with having a positive attitude and approach to learning. A growth mindset is a profound understanding of the lack of knowledge you have in any particular area coupled with the intrinsic motivation to learn. Having a lack or understanding for anything, or simply not knowing about something, is an uncomfortable place for many of us. Yet, first-year college students experience this unfamiliar place when they enter a university. The academy presents many new theories, concepts, and terms; undergraduates are building an academic habitus, but are not there yet.
Keleman ends his article by stating “Critical editing is a kind of writing that teaches undergraduates both an appreciation for literature and the kinds of thinking skills and communication skills that we normally use literary criticism to teach.” The very act of editing any work is also creating a careful and thoughtful reader, and, as reading so seamlessly does, it produces skilled and intellectual thinkers and writers.