The most current book I will ever read in my high school English career is as old as I am; “Into the Wild” copyright date 1996. Every other book that I am assigned to read as part of the English curriculum was written anywhere from 20 to 300 years ago. The current curriculum in place for regular and honors English uses books that are too out-of-date to be relevant or interesting to the students forced to read them.
The disconnect between today and the past is often too much, the impact of a book is lost.
I have sat in too many silent English classrooms while the teachers attempt to coax some type of summary or inference out their students. The lack of participation means the teacher is left explaining.
I’ll admit that, I am guilty of adding to the silence in the room. Out of the three or four books I am required to read every year, I only really understand one or two fully. Because I am bored by the story, can’t understand or can’t find a connection.
I end up needing my teacher, SparkNotes or another summary of the book in order to understand and supplement my reading. I am confident that I am not alone in this practice. I love reading, but finding the motivation to sit and read those 96 pages of “A Separate Peace” or “Great Expectations”, isn’t there.
Some stories never change; the lessons are still important, characters are impactful, and the writing is unprecedented. These books are still very important and should be taught, but they should not make-up the the whole of curriculum. The way the English curriculum is constructed is that every freshman, sophomore, junior and senior will all read the same books depending on the type of English they take. This list of books for each grade level rarely changes from year to year. Teachers have only the most freedom to choose books for outside reading books or summer reading books. These two instances are the only times that I would have the opportunity to read something that was published in the 21st Century. The the decision on majority of books that SMSD students read is made for the whole district, so that students learning is regulated throughout schools.
The problem with using these books is that they are used to teach certain periods, movements or styles, is everyone will not completely read or fully understand them. So students are not getting to truly learn how to read for details and synthesize literature to the full extent, this undercuts teachers ability to teach to their full ability. Instead of reading students turn to outside resources like Sparknotes and Cliff Notes that make not reading but also being able to pass quizzes, tests and write a decent essay possible.
I understand we have to study “timeless classics” to experience some of the best writing and stories. Also, as speakers of the English language, we should be familiar with the changes writing and speech have undergone and the progression they has made throughout the years. This is important to having a well-rounded knowledge of literature and the English language. If the need is felt to read literature in order to understand historical components, then reading those books in social studies classes.
Read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in American History Classes and in junior English read “The Fault in Our Stars”. Both are coming of age stories that deal with controversial topic for their time period. Using “Huck Finn” in a history class could add a layer of development to a unit on slavery in America.
To have that well-rounded knowledge, understanding today’s literature is also as vital as the literature of the 1800s. Giving us the opportunity to see the differences by reading something that is relevant to our culture and the issues of today. A controversial issue in 1820 is not going to be as controversial in 2014, if at all. Times have changed drastically since then, and what was considered racy and acceptable is different than now.The changes in what we view as politically correct and appropriate is different than what has been historically.
We can gain as much from books that are recently published as from books that have been celebrated for years. The changes that our society today have undergone affect the the way and extent to which a student can connect with a book. Knowing about where literature has been is important, but it is just as important to know where literature is now. Allowing us to seethe changes and be able to learn to our full ability.