Thursday, August 25, 2005

Should we even bother teaching Literature in schools?

I ask because I plan to spend the rest of my professional life doing just that, and I wonder if it's a useless vocation. I have a pretty large extended family, with lots of cousins and uncles who are men, and not one of my male relatives reads. I don't mean they're illiterate, I mean they never read anything more than the sports page of the Free Press. Young, old, really old -- if they crack open a book it's either The Purpose Driven Life or a biography of Secretariat or guitar tabs for Who songs (actually, this last statement's a little unfair; my brother reads Harry Potter, and I have a cousin who I have recently tried to corrupt with comic books). But they've all taken English classes in school, and read some of the "Classics," and yet none of them seems to have developed a love for literature, or a curiosity about Dostoevsky, Dante, or Shakespeare.

My grandpa likes to chalk this up to the fact that girls like English and boys like math and science, and that's just the way it is. But if men don't like to read, then why are there so many men who write? William, Ernest, and J.R.R. are not girls names, you know. And what about the men who do read literature on a regular basis, why are they so different from the trend?

I've been wondering lately if the teaching of literature in school ends up ruining good books for kids (and boys in particular). Even in my own experience (as a bookworm), being forced to read certain books (*cough*OldManInTheSea*cough*) damaged my view of what great "Literature" is, made me question and suspect those books that were said to be classics. Luckily, I've read enough now to know what I like and don't like, and that James Joyce really is a bit of a bore when compared to Shakespeare and Malory and Dickens.

What I fear, though, is the day when I teach Le Morte D'Arthur to my class and they find it just as boring as I once found John Steinbeck, and I've contributed to the ruin of literature in their minds. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if we just let children discover great books on their own and not make it a part of school or obligation. But then I remember that in today's world with its video games and ipods and 500 channels, books aren't exactly a medium most 14-year-old boys will be picking up any time soon.

And what I fear most of all is turning into Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society. Teaching English lit is hard. *pout*


At 5:39 PM, Blogger Elinor Dashwood said...

To a certain extent I think we should not try to teach literature to everyone in high school. Part of the reason boys are so disruptive in class is that many of them are wasting their time, and they know it. When my mother was in the public schools in New York City in the Thirties, students chose one of three tracks, Academic, Business, or Manual. Everybody took American history, civics, and Grammar, I believe, but their curricula diverged beyond that. One result was that first-rate mechanics and plasterers and plumbers weren't fiddling away their time trying to make head or tail of Henry James novels; another was that the only people who were studying literature were the ones who wanted to be there. I think it's a system that needs to be considered again.


Post a Comment

<< Home