Over on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog there's a discussion going on about what kind of literature is taught in school and how it is taught and which books should be used. I recently had a discussion about this with the friend who took me to opening day and her high school daughter. Can I just say, Berkeley High uses THE most depressing literature in their English classes? And they are all, of course, socially conscious.
Way to make reading all about duty and proper behavior. I agree with one commenter who said, "I have always found a lot of classroom pedagogy (particularly at the middle/high school level) to be more motivated by a perceived need to force a certain set of predetermined cultural signposts on students than by a desire to foster any love of learning. It's far more akin to forcing kids to eat vegetables than it is teaching them to make a nice salad."
I found myself wondering a) Why no humor? b) Why no essays? c) Why no short stories? Do they not count? I don't even know if they include any poetry. If they do, I hope it includes Billy Collins poem about students strapping the poem down to a chair, just to say you don't have to do that.
I asked my friend's daughter how long it took to read a novel. Two months. Two months!? That sounds like strapping a novel down to a chair and "beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means." Why not read something, get the gist, look at one piece, and move on? This is why I don't get why there are no essays or short stories in the mix. Or are there, and this is just Berkeley High?
One of the things I told my friend and her daughter was that I read The Great Gatsby in high school and didn't see what the fuss was about. Then I read it again in college and realized I didn't understand a lot of what was happening. Still wasn't my favorite, though. Then I read it again in my late 20's and realized how much had gone completely over my head as a naive college student. I read it again in my 30's and thought, "Boy, did I miss a lot of that book when I read it before." I need to read it again and see what else I find.
TNC had a great line in his entry: "For me, the love of books is premised on a kind of voluntary submission. The authors I love, are the authors I trust. I freely hand over a portion of my consciousness to their work, and settle back to see what they make of it."
It's tough. Obviously, I think literature, reading, critical analysis is important. But is there a way to do that that isn't (I hate the word) punitive--either to the students or to the writing? I think it's a shame that we have students read books because they are Great Literature when they don't have the experience to filter what's happening. But maybe the stretch is worth it. All I know is I've never considered The Scarlet Letter without a shudder.
What did you read in school that you think, "Boy, was I not ready for that"? And what you think would be great for students to read?