Literature Concerns

Over the past year, I have been reading a variety of young adult books, hoping to find more options that my students would be interested in.  In doing so, I have started reading blogs written by some of the authors I like.  Today, while reading one of these blogs, written by an author I have very much admired, I was really taken aback by a rant against classic literature in the classroom and insinuating that the teachers who use it are responsible for making students hate reading.

I’ll admit I’m a classic literature nerd.  I love Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, and yes, even Great Expectations.  I think everyone should read these books, and not because they are “good for you” or even because they have been traditionally taught at certain grade levels.  These authors are amazing, and they offer things that readers can’t get anywhere else.  Some of these books are not easy to read, but I see that as a good thing.  If people only read things that are easy to understand, they never stretch their minds and grow.  Students need a challenge, and they need to learn to look at things from different points of view. 

I think there’s a misunderstanding about classic literature–too many people perceive it as boring and out of date, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  The books are so very relevant.  I’ve had so many students who were pleasantly surprised when they got into a particular novel that they thought would be dull, and they were fascinated by it.  The classics definitely belong in the classrooms.  But that doesn’t mean that those are the only types of books students should read, or that there isn’t much to learn from other types of novels too.  I love young adult literature–I have spent most of my day today rereading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Maybe it’s silly, but it’s a lot of fun to read, and that’s important.  I love discussing all types of books with my students.  And there are so many other genres students are interested in–anime, sci fi, etc. 

All students operate on different reading levels too.  That’s okay with me–education is not a competition.  People have to learn at their own rate.  One of the things I love about teaching is differentiation, trying to find a way to reach each student on his/her own level.  It’s not always easy, or even possible, but it’s part of my job.  No matter how fun or relevant to real life a book is, there is no one book or genre that is going to reach all students.  They need a variety, ideally covering ALL genres. 

Reading problems are huge in schools today, and there’s no easy solution.  I’ve thought about this so much over the past year that I’m not sure what I’ve written even makes sense, or expresses exactly what I think about the issue.  I guess what bugged me the most about reading this blog is that while we search for a solution, we’re all supposed to be on the same side here.  I don’t understand people who rant against classic literature, or YA literature, or any other kind.  They are all important.  People just need to READ.

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3 Comments

Filed under books, Education

3 responses to “Literature Concerns

  1. Teresa

    But then the kids would have to put down their PSPs and gameboys!!! How dare you suggest such a travesty, Julie!!!! 😉

  2. Amy Hilliard

    Julie, you hit the nail right on the head! We do need to be on the same page!

    On the flip side, there are some teachers who wouldn’t be as open-minded, and insist that their students read only books that were deemed “classics”. That is no way to engage students. Then they feel that they are being beaten over the head with their elders opinions, belief systems and choices. What you are doing to explore other genres should be encouraged. Only by incorporating books that children perceive to be more relevant to modern life can you then shine a light on the relevance of one that they may have considered out-of-date, and therefore, out-of-touch. It’s a delicate balance, and one that you seem to be trying to reach.

    I majored in English Literature and I adore the classics. I credit my joy of reading and my thirst for knowledge to some well loved English teachers and my mother. It is the teachers, as well as the parents DUTY to nurture the joy of reading in children. And that depends on being able to reach them on each one’s personal level. They can do that by sharing many types of literature, including the classics.

    I have one daughter, so I might get lucky in passing on that joy. Tough job for you and your classroom full of kids! But, it is for that reason that teachers deserve to have more support than they usually get nowadays. Kudos to you!

  3. juliekay

    Thanks for the kind comments. It doesn’t always work out the way it should, but I think most teachers are really trying to do the reading thing right. I appreciate the support!

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