I remember high school. The good old days.
*Wipes tears away*
Okay so high school was pretty okay for me. I kept to myself mostly and I was just smart enough that the really smart kids liked me and I was just straight-laced enough that all the questionable kids avoided me. Smooth sailing really because with that combination I avoided almost all the drama that so slogs down teen lives.
I was reading an older article that talks about old, classic, canon literature vs. new, YA literature and which should or shouldn’t be taught in the classroom. On the one hand, students find it difficult to relate to classic literature and it is hard to read, on the other hand, we should be teaching challenging literature or what’s the point? How are teachers supposed to get students interested and willing to read but not ‘dumb down’ the literature?
I remember, to this day, the works I hated reading in high school, Romeo and Juliet, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Of Mice and Men are the first to come to mind. I also remember the works I loved: Hamlet, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Things Fall Apart were all great. There’s something really interesting about these things I remember though because the first were books we read in 9th grade, the last we read in 11th or 12th (can’t remember exactly).
I LOVED reading in high school and actually spent my entire sophomore English class sitting out of the way reading books and I still passed with flying colors (my teacher was awesome and I loved him, as long as I was getting good grades and participated when necessary, he didn’t care if I quietly read novels instead of listened to lectures). Yet I hated the works we read early on in high school. It doesn’t make any sense because if you look at it they deal with some of the same themes: suicide, mental illness, death, honor, loyalty, etc. These are common themes but when presented in 9th grade they sucked.
Perhaps, really, that’s the bigger question when it comes to what high school students should or shouldn’t be reading. The discussion usually goes something like this:
“This book has content that’s way too mature for a 14 year old high school student!”
“I agree! Ban it from all high schools!”
But wait, guys! There are 17 and 18 year old high schoolers! Don’t they deserve to read something at their level? They can definitely handle the canon by now! I think that maybe those who make decisions on books forget that half the students in a high school are 16+ and are capable of processing more complex, and darker, topics.
The books I vividly remember from high school are not particularly shocking (or at least I did not find them so when I read them). But I didn’t like anything I had to read until about 11th grade and I think that’s in large part because I wasn’t ready to read those works. I wasn’t ready to decipher Shakespeare but I would probably have been able to discuss character building in The Hunger Games. I wasn’t able to find the subtly in To Kill A Mockingbird but I could’ve spoken for hours about culture in A Girl Named Disaster. I know many students who had no problem figuring out the themes and meanings in these books but I know a lot of students who also hated them with a fiery passion I cannot rival.
I don’t think that using newer, YA novels is dumbing down the curriculum. On the contrary, I think it is exceptionally helpful to have more accessible works, mostly for younger students. I know I felt like my English classes sort of just threw us into the fray and we had to claw our way to the surface in order to understand anything. I had a good grasp once I hit later works, but see that’s the point isn’t it? I could’ve been led in gently and loved going deeper and deeper as my understanding and skill grew.
I want to give a shout out here to my high school Creative Writing teacher. She did this project where you got to choose three books to read during the semester and you had to analyze each to a certain extent. One book had to be a classic, I’ve forgotten the second one’s requirement (Sorry, WK!), and the last was one you got to pick. No strings attached, just choose a book, read it, and analyze it. I love that she did that. It was a small thing but I think it’s a powerful tool to show students that any book can be a learning experience.