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For Those Who Want to Take English 299...

April 25, 2020

This is a letter for those who intend on becoming an English major...

Here's some background!

As of right now, you have to take English 299 in order to fulfill the major requirements. I was honored to be able to take the class with Ms. Gillian Johns, one of my favorite professors. English 299 was the first time I ever took a class with her, and it was definitely one of my favorite classroom experiences from Oberlin College. It's important to note that English 299 is taught by different professors in the department at different times. My letter could apply to those who take the course itself or those who have a class with Professor Johns. 

Dear Future Student,

This is the class that made me confirm that I wanted to be an English major. It may be a little broad with the topics, but the broadness is completely necessary. One of the biggest takeaways from this class is the fact that interpretation is one of the most practiced actions in literature. Everybody speaks their own interpretations of the stories we read in class. Literary scholars interpret many of those same stories and display those similar thoughts through their own analyses. Everything is about interpretation, which means that perspective matters as well. Be ready to read from different perspectives from your own. Be ready to read critiques on books that you may either agree or disagree with. Be ready to consider perspectives you would have never thought about before. Mentally prepare yourself for this class, because you’re about to engage with texts that may change how you see literature. 

The topics we have covered in class have been a little broad, but it is an introductory class. This class has been a wonderful experience for me, but it has also challenged me. Be prepared for a lot of reading, because that was the first thing I learned when I looked at the syllabus. You’re going to be reading a lot of different texts. Some of them may bore you. Some of them may excite you. Others may leave you thinking “Um... WHAT?” Come into this class with an open mind, because some of your thoughts on literature may change after the semester ends. 

For example, I had no idea how elitist the literary community really was until the class explored it through articles and deep conversations. I always knew that certain literary works wouldn’t be included in the canon, but I had no idea about how selective the literary community was. There are issues with English study and its relationship with texts that relate to marginalized communities. I never really thought about that in depth before. Those are two ideas out of so many more that I’ve learned from this class. This information came from every aspect of class. This includes the required readings and assignments that we do outside of class, not just from the lectures and conversations in class. 

Don’t come into this class expecting it to be a cakewalk, because it isn’t. The learning comes with the work that you put in before class along with the class discussion. This isn’t one of those classes where you can skim through the readings, either. Professor Johns gets pretty deep with interpreting text, so if you have no idea what the texts are about, you wasted your time in class that day. Here’s another important note: Go to class. It’s only fifty minutes of your time. You’re only allowed to miss three times without penalty. She’s really cool with you if you let her know that you’ll miss class before you skip for whatever particular reason. Don’t make a habit out of it. Use the absences if you absolutely need them, because we cover a lot of material in one day. 

There are so many brilliant ideas that have been shared in the classroom. In fact, many of my paper ideas came from topics that the class discussed in depth. I would write the ideas down in my notes and explore them on my own after class. Sometimes, those ideas could blossom into midterm or final papers. That’s just another thought that may help you in the near future. Good luck to you! You’re going to love this class.

Best wishes,

Jason Hewitt

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