As an English tutor, the phrase I hear most often, in relation to Shakespeare and Hemingway and literally every over-assigned author, is "I don't care." When you take away all the layers of "what does this quote imply?" and "what is the author attempting to say here?", you reveal the answer to the question "why is this important?". The answer, for most students, is that it's not, or that they don't know what is important and they don't know why this matters and why the hell do they have to care about Shakespeare anyway and I'm a nursing major, for god's sake.

These students are not stupid or "uncultured" or too incompetent to appreciate the beauty of iambic pentameter. They don't care because there's no reason for them to because they hate the subject and all the long, grueling work it takes to come up with a cohesive essay about something they have no opinion about. It's hard to craft an argumentative thesis without an actual opinion. It's hard to answer the question "so what?" in your conclusion if you don't know why your argument is important in the first place. All of the sources and readings that professors are assigning, dealing with deconstruction and gender performativity and every other literary theory concoction, aren't helping.

Reading Shakespeare is hard enough, and the picks of scholarly articles that make their way into required English classes aren't helping. Reading theory that you have no background or interest in is alienating and turns students off from comprehending their readings. Students can't answer the question "what was this article about?" because they don't know! And they shouldn't be expected to know. Who introduces Foucault and Butler in a 101 class?

We tell students that they should be "engaging with their sources" and "joining the literary conversation" but how can they when the literary canon is so set and when scholarly works make it even harder to feel like you know what you're talking about. It's difficult to interact with a source in a research paper when the source and the literary work and everything in between make you feel like you have nothing valuable to add to the conversation.

Students are overwhelmed and alienated from participating in the literary conversation because they feel like they don't belong in it. Who would ever want to put in the effort to be involved in a conversation they feel unwanted in?