Romancing the Curriculum: Empowerment through Popular Culture

Publication year

I was able to locate this via EBSCOhost but unfortunately that had no pagination, so I can't be sure about the page references for the quotation I'm including. It was from the very beginning of the piece, though, so I suspect it must be mostly or entirely from page 71:

I almost wrecked a literature class for women returners on its first day in 1987 when, seeing the participants were bored with the usual icebreakers, I asked the women to talk to each other about a book they had read recently. Embarrassment ensued because they felt that their own reading matter, predominantly popular romantic fiction, was unsuitable material for discussion in a university course.

I wanted to stress the pleasures and not the sins of reading and remembered the sneers of my own English teacher when she discovered my predilection for the regency romances of Georgette Heyer. Gradually I introduced romantic fiction into the curriculum of various courses, and began to notice how the study of romance provoked reflective critical thinking, offering a stimulating focus for many of the women who were engaged in making major changes in their lives.

It seemed a suitable topic for research and for the past two years I have been working with two groups of mature women returners on an Access to Higher Education course in a further education college in the UK. These courses prepare adults without formal higher education entry qualifications for places in universities. Each group spent a year in the college, during which time I was with them for three or more hours a week, observing and co-teaching on their Cultural Studies module. The data I collected included triangulated participant observation notes on 236 hours of classroom teaching, interviews with the women at the beginning and the end of the course and the women's detailed learning journals. I wanted to pinpoint if, how and why the women's thinking habits, attitudes, beliefs and values changed as they were studying the romance. I became aware of work with girls and romance reading (Moss 1989; Taylor 1989; Christian-Smith 1993) and wondered how women's greater life experiences would affect their approach to these texts.