Monday, February 13, 2006

After my last post, I took the time to read Sunshine's post. I re-read rab's post as well and together they brought up something that has bothered me for awhile. Why do high school's insist that students read these heavy "meaningful" books? What is the purpose?
When I was a freshman in college, I took a course, "Intro to the Novel". (I majored in English Literature.) We read the very first Jane Austen novel I ever read and the last that I would read for 20 years. "Emma"! Our professor was this gangly 6 foot 6 inch tall thirty-ish guy who LOVED Jane Austen. He was able to take our class by the hand and show us all the little things that Austen does in her novels - the pokes at social mores - the sly giggles-behind-the-hand at people's pretentions. At 18, I needed that guide. I still had trouble figuring out why Austen was so cool.
Fast forward 20 years. I decided when I turned 40 that I would read some of the "Great Books" that I somehow missed and I took out "Pride and Prejudice." I loved it. I needed something slower paced, something to read in which not much happens. And when I read P&P, I realized that at 18 it would have bored me to death.
Now, I'm NOT saying that teens don't have the maturity to appreciate Austen. Some teens love Austen, at first read. What I'm asking is: is forcing teens to read these books necessary to teach teens about symbolism and themes and plot and all those other things that English majors get so excited about? I had to read "Silas Marner" in high school and George Elliott is still an author I avoid. What if students read segments of these books to get a taste of the authors' style? Maybe it would make more sense for students to be exposed to small tidbits of a lot of different authors and then be forced to apply the analysis they learned to a book they had discovered and loved. Like Sunshine's "Sisterhood" and rab's "Princess Academy".
So what do all of you think? Is "Great Literature" necessary to teach about effective writing or how to analyse someone else's writing? Is it necessary for cultural literacy - for instance? Can Cliff's notes or waiting for the movie to come out do the same thing? Have any of you had to read something for school and discovered you liked it - like Sunshine and "Silent Spring"?
And while we're at it, what's the book you read over and over again? Mine is "The Lives of Christopher Chant" by Diana Wynne Jones and I'd have to write a thesis to explain why.

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