Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (published in 1932) has become a famous longseller, on which the scholarly and didactic publications are legion. The authors of the teaching model which will be analysed below have decided to ignore them completely, and it is of minor importance whether they did so carelessly or deliberately. Anyway, their impressionistic achievement is very poor.
A Critical Analysis of a New Teaching Model concerning Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (BNW)
The following contribution deals with a publication which comes hot from the press, namely:
Luz, Angela/Brigitte Prischtt, Aldous Huxley: 'Brave New World'. EinFach Englisch Unterrichtsmodell. Paderborn: Schöningh, 2005.
On the one hand, I will try to analyse this teaching model in some detail. On the other hand, I am going to combine this analysis with some general questions of teaching full-length novels in the advanced foreign language classes. So this is meant to be a review article.
The publication under consideration is part of a whole series of teaching models published by Schöningh. This series, which is being continued, is very often dedicated to the teaching of novels in advanced foreign language courses in this country. Every volume has the following standard elements: biography of the author (written in English), brief description of all major characters, summary of the main events (written in German). Although their functions in the teaching model are not explained, it is easily imaginable that these pages are meant for the user’s first orientation and that the author’s biography is used as a worksheet in class.
Furthermore, every model offers at least two suggestions for testing purposes including the expected answers by the students in English. Undoubtedly, this is an ingredient which is popular with teachers. The fact that these suggestions are placed before the development of the teaching unit gives the teacher the feeling that the individual steps are meant to be a preparation for the test papers and that they are advised how to teach in order to test effectively.
In the above-mentioned volume, teachers may find one test about human cloning taken from Time Magazine, which is thematically connected to chapter I of BNW, and another one taken from chapter VII of Huxley’s novel, which deals with Lenina’s emotional reaction when entering the Reservation in Malpais (pp. 12-17). However, apart from a number of items for testing the textual comprehension of these chapters, a systematic comparison of life in the Reservation and in the so-called brave new world is not to be found in this teaching model. In addition, one task in the second test is devoted to particular stylistic devices to be traced in the literary text which are not dealt with in this model either. Thus appearances may be deceptive.
Some basic problems in teaching novels
Apart from such standard characteristic features of this series, there are several recurrent problems as to the teaching of novels in the foreign language classroom which call for an answer and therefore also play a part in this model. These comprise:
1) reasons for choosing a particular novel for teaching purposes;
2) strategies for the students’ acquisition of textual knowledge and the testing of it;
3) strategies for textual work in the classroom.
ad 1): There exist many reasons for dealing with Huxley’s longseller BNW in the foreign language classroom: to list them is almost like carrying coals to Newcastle. The novel is more topical than ever, for it may be combined with themes like gene technology or the use of drugs in our society, and it may also be read as a warning of the future, that is, as a cautionary tale or as a dystopia. Besides, it is possible to use additional media such as the film version of BNW by Leslie Libman and Larry Williams (which Luz and Prischtt regard as a failure; cf. p. 11) and an audio-cassette (by Harper Collins). This standpoint is perfecly acceptable since BNW, as a novel of ideas, provides a large potential for discussion.(1)
ad 2): Basically two possibilities exist: for one thing, the teacher may decide to have the students pre-read the novel. For this choice the authors give no real reasons; however, they draw attention to the problem that not all course members may pre-read the text (p. 11). The second possibility is that a successive reading of the novel is expected from the students; that is, each individual chapter is prepared just before its discussion in class. In developing their model the authors have pleaded for a pre-reading of the novel, although the reader does not learn anything concerning its possible advantages: for example, the authors do not mention the advantages of a contextualised approach.
Whatever approach is chosen, textual knowledge is the pre-requisite for textual work anyway since it leads to a critical awareness of the problems contained in the literary work. The authors, then, are right in assuming that, at the beginning of the teaching sequence, it is necessary to test the students’ textual comprehension. Therefore teachers have to be grateful for the fact that they are offered quite a number of worksheets, which will be discussed below (cf. component 1). So again there are no substantial objections to be raised.
ad 3): Of course, textual work is at the heart of teaching a full-length novel. According to the authors, classroom procedure is to be divided into five components, which will have to be described at some length. And this is where serious problems set in.
This part deals with testing textual comprehension: it is supposed to take place by worksheets which may be photocopied for classroom use. These show different possibilities of testing, and, as a rule, the answers expected by the students are given, too, which covers a lot of space. When the authors give the solutions for the true-false-statements, they merely state "true" or "false" without correcting the false ones (cf. e.g. p. 33). In this way the teacher may find test items for each chapter of the novel; the degree of intensity is quite different, though. For example, there is a striking difference concerning the number and the scope of items for chapter I and for chapter III.(2)
As to practical procedure, it is difficult to see how to test textual knowledge all the time without producing boredom. The authors have realized this problem, and therefore they work out different methodical procedures. Basically they suggest using the worksheets as while-reading tasks (p. 18), which is a familiar classroom device. But they also recommend that some students characterize a chapter with the help of such a worksheet. This will mean methodical variation, yet the problem arises that in such a case some students will know one part of the primary source better than others. To counterbalance this effect it is suggested that the results are shown in the classroom as a wallpaper (p. 18). Another suggestion is that the students develop an active vocabulary of their own ("Lernwortschatz"; ib.). This will turn out to be a difficult task unless the students are provided with some criteria of selection or with some stimuli for their work, which is not the case in the teaching model under consideration.
Generally speaking component 1 consists of worksheets for testing textual comprehension only. According to the authors, worksheets 1-3 are supposed to be familiar to the students at the beginning of component 2, worksheets 4-6 have to be dealt with at the beginning of component 3, and worksheets 7-9 should be known at the beginning of component 4. In three steps, then, the worksheets are meant to test the students’ comprehension of chapters I-XVII, i.e. the complete text of the novel - to the exclusion of the last chapter.
Now one might reasonably expect that textual work proper with the novel will start and that component 1 is meant to pave the way for the next parts. Rather than that, component 2 consists of a presentation of the term "dystopia", a worksheet for film analysis and five additional texts about gene technology. So the reader may learn what President Bush is thinking on therapeutic cloning, what the late Pope John Paul’s opinion about genetically modified organisms was like, what happened to the clone sheep Dolly, how gene therapy might prolong human life, etc., etc. Impressive as this list may be, for different reasons it does not do justice to BNW.
First of all, the term dystopia is no more than a wholesale label which has to be provided by the teacher and, which of course, calls for further differentiation: textual evidence should be quoted in order to illustrate some aspects. In addition to that inductive procedure would be preferable, which also means that this classification has probably to be placed at the end of the teaching sequence.
Secondly, as to the worksheet concerning film analysis (pp. 40-41), it is introduced out of the blue as a heterogeneous element of this component. It is only much later that its function becomes clear: in component 4 it is said to be some students’ task to analyse a documentary film about the nature of media (cf. p. 75). However, this is a topic which, in Huxley’s novel, is of minor importance only.
Thirdly and lastly, it comes as a crucial surprise that in component 2 no passage from BNW is chosen for analysis and discussion. This is not in accordance with the basic psychological requirements of teaching a novel. To begin with, there is no real connection between components 1 and 2. Besides, I wonder what the students’ reaction will be like: they are very likely to ask themselves whether their reading of the novel and the testing of their textual comprehension are done for their own sake and why their private reading process is not supplemented by an open communication and interaction in the classroom. They may expect with good reason that their individual reading process is followed by an exchange of impressions and ideas, i.e. by a public dialogue in class.
To my mind, the procedure chosen is somewhat paradoxical: after taking the linguistic obstacles the students are prevented from entering the more promising and more rewarding ground which may be characterized by interesting insights as to the substance and the content of the novel itself.
This component, then, does not offer any contribution to the textual analysis of the novel. As a result, a general didactic question arises: what is the shaping principle of this component and of the teaching model as a whole? If the students cannot find an answer to this question, some degree of frustration will inevitably arise. In this component at least, additional material replaces an interpretation and a discussion of the literary text, and because of this fact one has to ask the authors why they do not start discussing some examples of expository prose on gene technology right away since they certainly need not abuse BNW as a pretext for that. In order to avoid a possible misunderstanding I would like to add that supplementary material may indeed serve a very valuable purpose, but it should help to understand the primary source rather than replace it.
The authors now start from the assumption that worksheets 4-6 are familiar to the students: these deal with chapters V-VIII, which are about Bernard’s and Lenina’s visit to the Reservation. Component 3, though, deals with chapter 2 of the novel: thus the focuses of testing comprehension and of textual work do not run parallel. Curiously enough, the textual knowledge of chapter II is once again tested with the help of a summary. Conversely, it is difficult to see why text analysis does not start with chapter I since the beginning of the novel could well serve to provide first impressions of the so-called civilized world, and it also contains a lot of information concerning the genesis and development of human life.
Apart from these problems, methodical procedure is acceptable in this component:
- the concept of "hypnopedia" is analysed with reference to Huxley’s text; so this is the first example of close reading, which means that eventually there is some light at the end of the tunnel;
- the pupils are asked to develop a storyboard so that this scene from chapter II may be filmed; this is certainly an attractive productive task;
- in order to consolidate some technical terms partner work is used: each pupil gets one half of a crossword puzzle and by asking their partners they have to find the missing terms and to define them (i.e. they have to fill in information gaps).
Now the authors start from the assumption that worksheets 7-9 are familiar to the learners; they deal with chapters X-XVII, which means that almost the complete text of the novel is supposed to be known to the students.
In this context the authors have hit upon a fantastic idea: they have devised two tasks for group work, which refer to the text of the novel as a whole. Both have to be carried out in class and are to be finished within half an hour. In my opinion, this is simply unfeasible. It is unrealistic to expect the students to find all the solutions within half an hour: this contradicts received classroom experience. Instead, these tasks may be used either as the students’ homework or even better as a written assignment, for which the students should get several weeks’ time so that they may skim and/or scan the complete text of the literary work.
In addition, this group work consists of two tasks quite different in character. One is devoted to an analysis of the use of soma, the second is to deal with the many leisure-time activities in the brave new world. Doubtless, the first is much more relevant for Huxley’s futuristic society since soma serves many purposes. Conversely, a complete list of leisure-time activities is uninteresting since all of them fulfil the function of encouraging consumerism in order to support stability. Besides, linguistically speaking, the students are confronted with very complicated technical vocabulary which is devoid of practical applicability and therefore rather demotivating to learn.
This step of textual work is followed by something quite different, namely an analysis of a documentary or a feature film dealing with the role of the media. The students may choose from two examples: The Truman Show by Peter Weir and Pleasantville by Gary Ross (p. 75). One has the impression that the authors are very fond of using both documentary and feature films perhaps because they think them to be more motivating for the students than the literary text under consideration or because they regard Huxley’s novel as too demanding for them.
In the third part of component 4, which is entitled "Cultural life", the text of BNW is again discussed, i.e. passages from chapter IV and the final chapter XVIII are dealt with. It is the last time in this teaching model that the literary text of the novel comes under consideration in class since component 5 is directed towards linguistic aims.
This means that apart from testing textual knowledge, all in all, three kernel passages (taken from chapters II, IV and XVIII) are discussed in class, and there is one task referring to the novel as a whole which was mentioned and criticized above. In choosing this approach the building blocks of the novel do not become recognizable by textual work. There is no recognizable reason for the fact that textual interpretation and discussion are of such little importance. There is no satisfactory balance, then, between extensive reading and intensive reading either. The teaching model consists of too many additional texts, additional films, additional media which unfortunately do not combine in order to form a coherent whole.
Again the section serves quite a different purpose: it is meant to promote the different basic skills. This is certainly an important aim in itself; still it does not make up for the shortcomings and the deficiencies of the teaching sequence. In the following some of several steps are suggested which are again on a different level.
The first stage consists of a multiple-choice-test and a word puzzle: the students are expected to find key terms and to define them; this is a task appropriate rather for younger students. What is more serious in psychological and didactic respects is that this is a methodical fall-back procedure since it serves the purpose of testing textual knowledge, which was practised in component 1.
During the second stage the students are asked to listen to a section from an audio-cassette of BNW and to fill the gaps in the corresponding copy of the text; this is said to promote listening comprehension but again this is in close connection with component 1.
Stages 3 and 4 aim at the productive skills of the students: they are asked to make a poster or a collage concerning BNW and to write a guide for tourists visiting the brave new world. This could have been combined with an interpretation and discussion of chapter I, which, however, as mentioned above, in this teaching model never takes place. In the next stage the students are asked to compare the endings of Huxley’s novel to the film version of BNW, which may be said to be a contribution to media literacy. This kind of comparative analysis is probably both motivating and interesting.
It would be possible to go on in the same way. Yet these examples may suffice to show that it is not the practitioners’ lack of didactic imagination which I complain of. No doubt, there are some attractive variables concerning classroom procedure. However, what they offer is a mere medley, a hotchpotch of ideas without any shaping principle: there is no systematic concept behind the individual suggestions. Particularly if you do not follow the chronology of the text, a red thread has to become clearly recognizable very soon. In other words, you need long-term devices in order to maintain motivation. Such measures are not suggested in this teaching model, neither is there a summary or a round-up of the major aspects.
On the whole, the authors do not do justice to Huxley’s novel: it is being read and instrumentalized for discussing additional material. The authors do not have anything to say concerning Huxley’s intention, his use of irony, his satiric technique, the function of the many allusions to Shakespeare (more than 40 in number), including the title of the book. At best Huxley’s novel is treated as a text where certain key terms occur which are taken up for discussion. In this highly selective and impressionistic approach there is nothing to give the interpretation, discussion, and the evaluation of the novel form and meaning since no coherent plan can be recognized.
Moreover, the teaching model is determined by serious gaps: neither chapter I nor chapters XIII-XV are analysed, the authors do not say anything about the position of the individual and the family; they do not provide a plan to discuss the functions of science, art, religion and language. Admittedly, these are difficult subjects but they are motivating for young adults the majority of whom are going to start on an academic career in the foreseeable future. In the beginning the authors boast of the fact that many topics in BNW are relevant in terms of biology, philosophy, religion, etc. (p. 18), however, deplorably, there is no mention of these disciplines in the text of the teaching model.
Criticism of the authors’ argumentation
Serious criticism has to be put forward concerning the authors' argumentation. On the one hand, the authors use technical terms like "Lernzirkel" (p. 19) or "Lernerautonomie" (p. 80), without giving either definitions or explanations of them and they list rules for team work (p. 69) without referring to the sources these ideas have been taken from. Therefore I wonder whether the authors have heard of the principle of verifiability and its significance for scholarly investigations. Luz and Prischtt mention only two didactic sources, namely the teaching models by Imig and Sonnhütter (p. 93),(3) however, these are neither described nor quoted. On the other hand, it is easy to show that results reached in previous publications might have been helpful for the teaching sequence under consideration. To quote but three examples:
First of all, there is no mention of the concept of the "homework restaurant" which was developed by Susanne Kröger and applied by her to BNW.(4) This idea is particularly important because it is completely based on the student-orientated concept of learning by teaching.(5) This could also be interesting in the context of independent work by the students and learner autonomy.
Secondly, Luz and Prischtt suggest that some students develop an active vocabulary (cf. above). In order to help them there are publications of annotations on the market, e.g. those prepared by Rudolph F. Rau and published by Klett,(6) which also include a lot of additional texts. There are also annotations prepared by Jahnke and Riedel and published by Aschendorff,(7), which reached as many as 24 impressions and which may well be said to represent a unique case in the publication history of didactic resources. As a consequence, nobody who is teaching BNW can afford not to know them. The authors of this book have decided they can. Both these volumes have got explanations in the English language.
Thus, thirdly and lastly, the authors could have chosen either the Klett or the Aschendorff annotations to be completed by an authentic edition of BNW for classroom use rather than a didactic text in which all annotations are given in German. Moreover, the bibliographical data listed by Luz/Prischtt are not complete. Just to tell the reader that an edition of BNW published by Reclam has been chosen for classroom work is unsatisfactory, even if it includes the international book number; the name of the editor Dieter Hamblock has twice been left out (cf. [p. 2] and p. 11) - either intentionally or unintentionally.(8)
Hamblock’s edition, though, also has its merits: for example, it possesses a bibliography of academic studies (p. 310), which, among other titles, includes Bode’s perceptive analysis of Huxley’s work, Thiel’s comprehensive dissertation on BNW and Erzgräber’s generic discussion of utopian and anti-utopian novels.(9) None of these is to be found in the teaching guide under consideration. I wonder whether the authors acknowledge that the use of important results of scholarly research and their documentation are indispensable characteristic features of scholarship and that both teachers and students may learn from them. Luz and Prischtt obviously do not show any practical interest in either scholarly or didactic sources. Even if they do not claim their publication to be complete (cf. Preface), this procedure is both irresponsible and unacceptable. It is true that they draw attention to a number of web sites (cf. p. 93), yet this list is not complete either since it ignores such an important site as the homepage of the Aldous Huxley Society and the Aldous Huxley Annual edited by them.(10)
Some further mistakes
The following remarks refer to some details of content and language. In the presentation of characters, Helmholtz Watson is classified as a perfect Alpha (p. 6). This is not in accordance with the fact that he, like his friend Bernard Marx, is banned as an outsider: he aspired to be a real poet for whom there is no room in Huxley’s fictional futuristic society. In summarizing the events of the novel the authors point out that people in the Reservation are living like people during Ford’s time (p. 8). This is not true: people in the Reservation have not yet reached the standards of Ford’s time. Life in the reservation shows mankind at the beginning of their history: it represents the chronological antithesis of life in the brave new world.
The authors always use the form "of the 30’s" (cf. for example p. 5 and p. 38): since the apostrophe is used with the s-genitive, they should leave out the apostrophe ("of the 1930s"); this is a prepositional case rather than an s-genitive. (However, this is a frequent mistake in current English.) In component 1 there is one problem as to terminology: rather than speaking of "right-wrong" statements the authors had better say "true-false" statements since the students are to concentrate on substance rather than on linguistic correctness.
In this teaching model, there are considerable gaps in the treatment of the primary text and also serious deficiencies in dealing with scholarly sources. In other words, there are shortcomings both concerning the substance of Huxley’s literary text and concerning the authors’ method of argumentation: this publication is characterized by essential errors as well as by practical mistakes.
It is for the editor and the publishing house to decide whether the authors deserve another chance in order to show they can do better than that. Anyway, to my mind, this teaching model should be rewritten from scratch: it represents a poor, a very poor achievement indeed. Hélas!
On a more general level I would argue that in planning a teaching model for a full-length novel it is indispensable to pay attention to the following steps and principles:
I feel very confident that in doing so better results may be reached in the immediate future, which will be determined by texts and tests centrally chosen ("Zentralabitur").(14)
(1) Michael Routh, York Notes on 'Brave New World' (Singapore, 1982, 7th impression, 1999), p. 51. -
I would like to thank my dear friend Graham Wilson of Münster University, who, once again, made many valuable suggestions in order to improve my English. Of course, responsibility for possible mistakes rests entirely with me.
(2) In this component there are also some creative writing tasks, e.g. the students are asked to write an inner monologue (chapters IX and XV), to add a speaker’s thoughts to statements from the novel (chapter X) or to write a newspaper article about Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson being expelled from civilization (chapter XVIII). These may look attractive; however, normally they are not used for testing purposes: they presuppose insight into and an understanding of the text which at this stage has probably not yet been reached.
(3) Ingrid Sonnhütter, Stundenblätter. Aldous Huxley: 'Brave New World'. Stuttgart: Klett, 2. Auflage, 1984.
For a detailed criticism of this publication cf. Natascha Jedamczik: Mediendidaktische Analyse der Stundenblätter des Klett-Verlages. Imig, Ulrich, Aldous Huxley: 'Brave New World'. Lehrerhandreichungen. München: Langenscheidt-Longman, 1990.
(4) Susanne Kröger, "'Welcome to the Homework Restaurant': Differenzierende Hausaufgaben im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II", in: Neusprachliche Mitteilungen 52:4 (1999), pp. 239-246.
(5) Jean-Pol Martin und Rudolf Kelchner, "Lernen durch Lehren," in: Johannes P. Timm (ed.), Englisch lernen und lehren. Didaktik des Englischunterrichts (Berlin, Cornelsen, 1998), pp. 211-219.
(6) Rudolph F. Rau, Aldous Huxley: 'Brave New World'. Annotations and Study Aids. Stuttgart: Klett, 1991. [based on the Flamingo Harper Collins edition, 1994]
(7) Hans-Otto Jahnke/Hans Riedel, Huxley: 'Brave New World'. Vokabularien. Münster: Aschendorff, 24. Auflage, 2001.
(8) Dieter Hamblock (ed.), Aldous Huxley: 'Brave New World'. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1995.
(9) Cf. Christoph Bode, Aldous Huxley, 'Brave New World'. München: Fink, 1985. (UTB);
Berthold Thiel, Aldous Huxleys 'Brave New World'. Amsterdam, 1980;
Willi Erzgräber, Utopie und Anti-Utopie in der englischen Literatur. Morus, Morris, Wells, Huxley, Orwell. München. Fink, zweite Auflage, 1985.(UTB).
(10) Aldous Huxley Annual (Jerome Meckier/Bernfried Nugel editors) is the official organ of the Aldous Huxley Society at Münster; cf. www.anglistik.uni-muenster.de/Huxley.
(11) Cf. Brigitte Krück/Kristiane Loeser, "Effektive Rezeptionsstrategien durch Lesetagebücher", Fremdsprachenunterricht 41:1  (1997), pp. 2-10.
(12) Willi Real, "From Brave New World to Island: Didactic and Methodological Suggestions for a New Course Plan", Aldous Huxley Annual, I ( 2001), pp. 191-209.
(13) As an example of a successful project attention may be directed to Traudel Gnass-Franke, "Realizing Utopia - Vom Roman zum Theaterstück am Beispiel von Huxleys Brave New World. Ein Erfahrungsbericht", in: Die Neueren Sprachen 90 (1991), pp. 173-182.
(14) In North-Rhine Westphalia this will take place in 2007 for the first time. Thus preparations for it have to start fairly soon.