Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forcing the Classics

It's happened to everyone. At least I feel fairly safe in assuming that. A book is assigned in school - or perhaps for summer reading, and you have to force your way through it. Maybe you skim it. Maybe you don't read it at all. You decide that it is the most horrid thing ever written and can't figure out why anyone would want to read this book, or anything by this author ever.

Chances are the book in question was a classic.

Classic starts to equate in your mind to "boring."

You see other books labeled "classic" and you ignore them, because you have learned that classic equals boring.

But what if the book in question wasn't really boring? What if it wasn't poorly written? What if you, as  student, were just not ready for the insights the book revealed about human nature.

What if.

What if you read the book years later as an adult and are amazed at the power of the language, at the imagery at the depths of the insight?

What if you get it when you are an adult?

But what if you never pick the book back up, because you've already read (or skimmed) it and already know it's boring. Why then, you'll be missing out on something big, and you'll never know it.

My daughter had to read All Quiet on the Western Front in 7th grade. She hated it. I'm pretty sure I read it in high school and thought it was boring. I just re-read it last week and loved it.

I understand the desire of teachers to want to introduce their students to a variety of literature. I get that. But sometimes I think we do students a disservice by forcing them to read books they are not ready for.

Is there an easy answer to this? Probably not. But I do think we have to stop making reading novels feel so much like work, and let it be fun. This is one of the reasons why YA literature is so important for kids. It's something that they're much more apt to get. It's something that can be fun. And when something is fun you want to do more of it.

And reading should be fun.

And classics are fun too - but not when read at the wrong time.

So, what is your take on this - are we ruining classics for students by forcing them to read them when they don't really understand them, or are we making sure they leave school with a well-rounded introduction to literature. And does it have to be one or the other?

1 comment:

  1. The should be taught and need to be taught. We ALL have to do things and read things we don't like anyway. It happens in high school and it happens in college. Personally I really enjoyed a lot of the classic we were "forced" to read as part of school. I LOVED "The Great Gatsby" and "The Scarlet Letter" and all the Shakespeare plays. I never would have read these on my own.

    The exposure to great literature is more important than just making sure kids enjoy reading. They can read for fun on their own time. And if they don't "understand" the classics it's more a failure of our culture and educational system, than any sort of failure on the part of the author. We have been dumbing down ourselves and our children for decades, and that is no reason to NOT read and teach classics. We need to raise up expectations, not teach lesser works of literature.