I got an email cc'd this morning from one of our Administrative Assistants, a person responsible, effective, efficient, and wonderful. She'd noticed some weird annotations on a printout the bookstore sent her (dot matrix printout, so very difficult to read), and asked the bookstore contact person about what she had listed. Here (roughly) is what she had emailed:
English XXX - Bardiac - Canterbury Tales (Sparknotes?? hard to read this word
on the report).
So I sent an email to the contact person basically reiterating what I'd ordered for the class, and wondering if instead of "Sparknotes" it should have said, perhaps, "seminar"?
Within a very few moments, I got a note from the bookstore contact person explaining that they'd
put in some "Bookstore Recommends" texts to be available as supplements for yourAnd, apparently, what they recommend for my Chaucer seminar is, yes, you guessed it, the Sparknotes text for The Canterbury Tales. And the way the contact person worded his message is so innocent, in a sort of "look at this GREAT thing we did to help our students" kind of way.
I think that's why I'm laughing. He has no clue that the whole English department is going to be sending outraged emails shortly, perhaps even stomping down there for a personal visit. I imagine professors from a variety of disciplines will have similarly delighted reactions when they realize what the bookstore's done.
Bonus fun: The bookstore's apparently ordered such "supplements" for ALL of our classes, including not only the stupid notes books, but other texts as well.
Our Admin Asst didn't know what Sparknotes are, but (since she now knows) just sent out a department email so everyone knows what happened (she'd been sending them out one by one, but that would involve, apparently, one email per class).
Yes, since you're asking in your head, our NWU bookstore is now run by an outside chain. Not hard to guess, was it?
A pretty happy ending: I emailed the contact person again, and even had a colleague check to make sure my language wasn't too strong, abrupt, or whatever. I asked him to have the Sparknotes book moved away from the shelve to discourage students from buying it unnecessarily, and just got an email saying that he would take care of it, and even thanking me for my feedback, because they need to know if we don't like something that lots of other professors do.
Does anyone order Sparknotes for a Chaucer or other upper level literature class? Anyone? Bueller?
ps. In case it's not clear, perhaps I should explain why I object to our bookstore putting Sparknotes texts as "Bookstore Recommended" alongside the books I ordered on the shelves.
Chaucer, when you first encounter the language, is hard. It took me about HOURS to get through the "General Prologue" the first time, for my very first Chaucer class (five hours for 25 pages in that edition). My old Everyman paper edition of The Canterbury Tales is covered in inked notes, lots of glosses on words especially. (I made my own glossary in the front cover: the first word in it is "eke." It's VERY important to me to remember that I had to learn "eke" and had to write it down along the way. I keep that in the front of my tiny little brain when I teach Chaucer.)
There's value in working hard to read, learn, and understand a text. There's value in working hard to learn anything, pretty much.
Putting the Sparknotes text next to the Chaucer edition implies first that I've recommended it (yes, it may say "Bookstore Recommended," but many students will see only the "recommended" part), and I haven't.
The most careful and studious students are actually the most likely to trust the recommendation and spend the extra money (just under $5.00 in this case) to buy the extra texts. These students aren't rich: that $5.00 could be better spent in so many other ways. Yet the bookstore is misleading them into spending it on Sparknotes.
Sparknotes may be validly useful for some students, but in my experience, students use such "supplements" to avoid struggling with really difficult texts. They read the explanations, and then don't really work through the text.
With Middle English, especially, the language itself is incredibly wonderful; by working through it, you learn to read it (I find it takes most students 3-4 weeks to get a basic grasp), you learn to feel it in your mouth. In the process, you learn a lot about Modern English and something about medieval English culture, thought processes, and even some great stories. You also learn that you're capable of learning something if you work at it.
That very lesson is one of the most important things everyone should learn in their education.