Class, Read Whatever You Like
Gregory Wolfe August 30, 2009 - 2:57am
There's an article in the New York Times about a trend in middle and high school education--dropping assigned, classic texts and letting kids read pretty much whatever they want, including "James Pattersons adrenaline-fueled 'Maximum Ride' books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the 'Captain Underpants' series of comic-book-style novels."I tend to be a tad crusty on issues like this--as in, "this is another sign that the Apocalypse is upon us"--but as a parent and a teacher I know the exhausting struggle of wills with students these days when it comes to asking them to read something. Anything.So I do have brief moments when I think "let them read anything--the back of a Honey Nut Cheerios box--at least that may help get them in the habit of reading."But, back on the crusty side again, I think: "This is the death of authority and the triumph of consumerism."To read something because your teacher thinks it's a good idea--this is now oppression?In fact, I suspect that the most powerful force at work here is not postmodern attacks on authority but simply the siren song of pragmatism--"in the age of Twitter they won't really read or engage 'Huckleberry Finn' so they should at least choose to read 'Captain Underpants.'I don't buy it.A good teacher should be able to fire up any class for a great text. Part of the teacher's job description is learning how to overcome resistance. In a word, to generate the right set of circumstances for the secular equivalent of a conversion experience.For me it happened in the eighth grade during what seemed like an interminable line-by-line slog through Julius Caesar. One day I was full of fear and loathing; the next I was intoxicated and in love. I don't think this could have happened without that slog. (Thank you, Mr. Taussig!)Teachers, don't despair. Do not abandon your teaching authority. Challenge them to read the good stuff. Literary metanoia can still take place.