English Department Statement on Course Content and Philosophy To Students
Good education brings together excellent teachers, quality course material, and willing students. Your professors, who are trained professionals and temple recommend holders of good faith, will share the great literature and essays which have enriched their lives and complemented their faith. You are also an essential link in the learning process. The injunction to "seek learning by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118) suggests that you be willing to have faith in your professors, in their choices of texts, and in the process of expanding your understanding. With a willingness to learn and faith in your professors, you can expand your mind and deepen your intellectual and spiritual understanding of life and the gospel in English courses at BYU-Idaho.
Of course, nearly all great literature and essays have been written by non-LDS authors whose works do not deal directly with the restored gospel, and whose values and thinking may diverge significantly from the reader's. Because the "best books" often deal with difficult moral, philosophical, and social issues and invariably present them in thought-provoking ways, it is hardly surprising that students are occasionally troubled by great literature. Yet within the safe atmosphere of a church educational institution, English professors will strive to present the readings to you in the context of gospel values; to promote informed opinion, open discussion, honest exchanges of belief, and opportunities to disagree with the conclusions of authors and teachers; and to prepare you for lifelong learning by helping you develop your own discriminating standards and skills for the selection and reading of literature and essays.
Naturally, you expect your professors to also respect your opinions and values. Education is, in one sense, a dialogue, and at times your beliefs may be at odds with those of your professors or fellow students. In both instances, your obligation, as clearly outlined in scripture (D&C 42:88), is to speak directly with the professor or fellow students so that others may understand your point of view and so you may deepen your understanding of others.
The BYU-Idaho Mission Statement states that the first objective of this institution is to "build testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and encourage living its principles." Faculty should never intentionally do or say anything to undermine faith. The choices of texts and class discussions should build intellectual growth as well as spiritual understanding and maturity. You can teach "out of the best books" (D&C 88:118) by choosing for your courses the best examples of poetry, prose, drama, and/or essays produced by contemporary and past writers in various national literary traditions.
You have the responsibility to provide a context for the study of the selected works that will strengthen students' critical awareness of historical, cultural, and aesthetic movements as well as enable students to understand the larger purposes and values of studying literature that may occasionally include some potentially disturbing elements. Yet because of the unique stature of BYU-Idaho as a religious educational institution, certain kinds of texts should be avoided, even if secular academia judges such texts as having high literary value. For example, texts which contain gratuitous profanity, sex, or violence are not appropriate. The world of literature is rich and diverse enough to give you ample choices.
As teachers, you should be sensitive to different student's levels of experience and tolerance. You should be willing to counsel with and teach without prejudice those whose opinions differ from your own, and be open to negotiate alternate texts. Of course, alternate texts should be as academically rigorous as original text selections.
As BYU-Idaho faculty members we are committed to the Lord, the mission of BYU-Idaho, and to a standard of excellence in teaching our discipline. In fact, we recognize that our employment at BYU-Idaho is based on our commitment to live the principles of the Church and the Gospel, as well as our academic and professional expertise.
Accomplishing the mission of the university means supporting both students and faculty and, when necessary, helping them negotiate differences. This means that when students register complaints about course content, students should be encouraged to speak to their professors first. On this campus, we appreciate the trust given to professors and department chairs to fairly work out disagreements. When administrators invite students to share concerns with their teachers first, the students then follow the Lord's stated method for filing grievances (D&C 42:88). Such action usually creates understanding and reconciliation rather than mistrust and hard feelings.
Finally, we encourage all administrators, faculty, and students to use this document and its principles to better educate the entire campus community about the nature of literature, education, and the goals of this institution.
Course Content and Philosophy
In harmony with both the BYU-Idaho Mission Statement and the Statement on Academic Freedom, the English Department offers a statement on course content and philosophy concerning the selection and teaching of reading materials within our department.
Great literature is the artistic expression of complex human experience in language, rendered by insightful writers. Our object in BYU-Idaho English courses is to develop minds and spirits through texts that have the potential to enrich and enable. Just as daily life teaches and refines us through experience with opposites, so literature often works by means of conflict. Because great literature and essays treat inherently difficult moral, philosophical, and social issues, they sometimes confront us with what is tragic and ugly in human experience along with what is hopeful and beautiful.
In contrast, poorly written works tend to present human experience in shallow, simplistic, and sentimental ways. Some literature and essays judged by scholars to have merit realistically or figuratively depicts life in language which may, paradoxically, be either beautiful or offensive or both. Nevertheless, literature and essays should not be judged merely by their diction, subject matter, or contents of isolated passages. Ultimately, great writing should teach readers to understand and appreciate the dignified, empathetic, and artistically skilled rendering of complex human experience.