Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who Needs Shakespeare...?

The following is a rant spurred by an issue brought up in my class the other day.  I will concede that it's a little one sided and overly passionate while lacking in rational support for now. Maybe someday I'll write a full-fledged paper, but for now...feel free to skip this post if you don't want to read about my stubborn views about literature.

***You teachers out there...please don't judge me for having an idealized view of high school classrooms...I admit I haven't ever taught before, but I just want to hold on to my precious belief that students can still be motivated by literature.***

In my Young Adult Lit class (again) today, we discussed the idea of replacing teaching the classics with new, popular, young adult literature in the classroom.  My professor's argument is that kids can't relate to The Scarlet Letter or The Great Gatsby.  I can understand where he's coming from, but I'm dumbfounded.  I couldn't believe that this entire class of English Teaching majors agreed that we should stop teaching the classics in high school!  They're basically advocating that we dumb down our education system to make school more accessible.  What about trying to raise our students up?!  What about teaching them that the great things in life don't come without hard work and effort?  I think part of the argument is that the classics are really hard to teach because the kids just don't read.  I can't argue with that because I definitely spark-noted my fair share of novels in high school, but the writing wasn't lost on me.  Maybe kids won't read at home.  Then read it together with them in class!  Or if there isn't enough time in class, take  specific passages and pick them apart with the students to show them that really great writing is complicated and full of multiple meanings--which makes reading it time and time again worth it.

I, of course, was just coming off of reading my novel about Charles Dickens and remembering how great he is, so I was personally offended that anyone would suggest that Laurie Halse Anderson was anywhere near his level of greatness.  I'm not suggesting that all YA lit is trash, there are actually some really great YA novels out there, but for the most part, we have a literary canon because those are the texts worth studying--even hundreds of years later.

One girl went on and on about how Shakespeare is so dumb, overrated, and we all put way too much stock in his plays.  I could maybe understand what she was saying, except for the fact that I've studied Shakespeare--and lots of it.  Maybe he didn't mean to support feminism, religion, the traditional family, or all the other meanings we ascribe to his plays, but who cares?  If we can still derive new meaning from plays written 400 years ago, props to Shakespeare.  Yes, on your own, as a 9th grader, Shakespeare is almost inaccessible and has the potential to be meaningless, but with a teacher guiding you slowly through and explaining the difficult passages, it becomes the incredibly beautiful and inspiring text that it is!  Sure Romeo and Juliet was difficult, but my 9th grade class enjoyed it.  And we were able to grasp enough of it to know that it was worth picking up again later on in our lives.

I'm sorry, but I just don't think very much young adult lit is worth reading over and over again at different stages in your life.  The main argument for easier reading is that at least assigning young adult lit will get kids in high school to read at all.  I hate the concept of having to dumb down reading just because nowadays we're used to immediate gratification, at the cost of real learning and growing.  Maybe we can make the summer reading some YA books, but what's the point of reading simple, easy books, when we have teachers who are specifically there to help us understand the difficult novels and become better readers/thinkers?

K I'm done with my rant.  Congratulations if you made it all the way through!  I'm just completely shocked that the future teachers of English from BYU don't think the classics should be kept in the classroom.  Like, have we been taking different classes or something?  Because from where I stand, studying Shakespeare has the potential to make you a better person, and I'm pretty grateful my high school teachers had the gumption to trudge through these classics with me all 4 years. Their dedication helped inspire me to work hard to understand the meanings behind books like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and plays like "The Tempest", and I feel like I'm a better human being for it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It was the best of times...It was the worst of times...

So for my Young Adult Literature class, we have to read 15 YA books outside of class.  We have specific genres we have to meet (Sci-Fi, historical fiction, graphic novels, specific authors, etc.), and I just finished my historical fiction book.  Oh, below are the last 9 young adult novels I plan to read in the next 2 weeks before they're due back at the library...(wish me luck!)

So I just finished my historical fiction book about Charles Dickens.  What a heart-wrencher!  I say that half-facetiously because Dickens' novels are all heart-wrenchers, and this was of course nothing close to Tiny Tim and Pip's pitiful lives, but it was still very moving.  Charles Dickens was an incredible person.    (What follows is the journal entry for my class "reader's journal", so feel free to stop reading here unless you're interested in Charles Dickens or really great people in general :)

Andrea Warren tells the story of Dickens' life starting from his childhood in this easy-to-read, illustrated, young adult novel.  Did you know that his parents forced him into workhouses where he lived and worked with the poor children who were being treated so horrifically in London during his time?  It makes sense, because his childhood experiences obviously shaped the way he would write for the rest of his life, but I never knew that about him before reading this.  

He was never allowed to go to school except when he was almost 18 and only went for a month before he realized he had self-educated himself past what the schools had to offer him anymore.  His sister was allowed to receive her education, but Charles had to work to support his family who lived in a prison cell because their father was in so much debt.  It was while he worked in a shoe-polish factory that Dickens realized that his society needed to change.  

Warren follows Dickens' life through each of his 20 novels to explain what inspired him to write about specific social situations.  It's really incredible to realize that he wasn't writing just to show off his prowess.  He sincerely hurt for the poor and wanted the rich to be emotionally moved to offer their help.  Each of his novels were written for some specific purpose and each achieved the desired results.  By the time Dickens had passed on, his novels and speeches had brought about:
     -  Education being free for 5-13 year olds in London
     -  Children under the age of 5 no longer being forced to work in cramped, damp, dangerous tunnels
     -  Schools with headmasters who abused the young boys were shut down because boys were dying unnoticed at the hands of incompetent and cruel teachers.
    -  It was no longer legal for mothers to leave their newborn babies on the sidewalk for dead.  
    -  Philanthropists were alerted to the situation of the poor and homeless children in London and donated generously to good schools, boarding houses, and private adoptions to provide children with the prospect of getting out of poverty.  

There were others, as well, but one other interesting fact I learned was that Handel's Messiah?  It was written to support one of these boarding houses for abandoned babies.  He didn't even think it would be popular; he was just trying to be charitable in offering his music to a fundraiser.  Every year since that event, Handel's Messiah has been performed at a concert for the benefit of London's poor.  

I just loved reading about how innately good some people are.  I've always loved Dickens' novels anyway, but I feel like I just love the man even more now.  He was generous from the time he first published a story to the end of his life.  England mourned for two days solid after his death because he was such a beloved and kind-hearted man.  Talk about making an impact!

Saturday, March 23, 2013


So I got tired of my old blog and decided to try to mess with the layout.  I've really liked the simple blank layouts I've been seeing lately and wanted to simplify my blog, so I did!  Unfortunately, the header I have will only last through Easter, but I made it on my own, so it'll be easy to change when Easter's over.  For now, I am loving the Spring feel my blog has!  (And maybe it'll motivate me to write once in a while?)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sometimes I Feel Bad...

Sometimes, I'm too rash.  My family has come to expect only extreme reactions from me in ordinary circumstances.  For example; if it's too cold in the car, I frantically twist the air control to all the way hot, full blast.  Then, when I inevitably get too hot, I frantically twist it back to all the way cold and full blast, or turn the air off completely.  While I recognize that there's a better way, I can't help it!  My body only knows how to tell me things in extreme ways.  I personally think the problem is that what others feel as simply "a bit chilly" I feel as "I'M GOING TO LOSE MY TOES IF WE DON'T TURN ON SOME HEAT RIGHT NOW!!!!!"  It's weird, and I know it.  Sometimes, things are just black and white to me and I completely miss the gray.

I think the first time Dave ever saw an extreme situation with me was when I was furious with my landlord over her incompetency.  I believe he sat in the car and listened to me rant and rave for 30 minutes straight.  He'd never seen my face so red and my body so riled up.  I was ready to run miles and miles or smash things (and if you know me, you know running is a completely drastic response).  Anyway, the point is, the first time this happened, it scared him.  He was literally in shock I think.  I wasn't the girl he thought I was--I was irrational!

I used to pride myself on my extreme emotions and ability to get so passionate about something I lost all inhibition.  Since meeting Dave, a calming influence in my life, though, I've tried to change that.  I think I've succeeded mostly (the car temperature still gets me, I have to admit), but last night, when I was casually checking on my grades for one of my classes I noticed that I had close to failed an assignment.  I was livid.  It's a class I don't put much time into because I feel like it's not that difficult.  Most of the students in the class are young English Majors or non-English Majors, so I feel pretty confident in how my writing should compare.  Anyway, I pretty much failed this assignment and I was so so upset.  I tried to go back to sleep, but I just was so furious.  I couldn't stay calm lying there as the rage was coursing through my veins.  How could this professor tell me, as I'm getting A's in most of my other classes right now, that my writing is worthy of a D??  And this is the second assignment I've done terrible on!  What the heck!?  Does he hate me?!  Is he just out to get me?!?!

I couldn't sleep until I had sent him an e-mail, so after writing and deleting one that wasn't appropriate, I wrote a very calm e-mail asking him to meet with me today about my grade in the class.  He responded this morning (and by this time, I had calmed down significantly and, to be honest, was over the entire situation) and I went in to talk to him.

It turns out that for the first paper I hadn't done well on, we reread it together and he decided he would change the grade because he must have been in a very bad mood while reading it through the first time.  We then read the second paper I wrote together and he absolutely loved it and told me to expand it into my final paper.  As for the grade that started all of this, it turns out it was a misunderstanding and all I need to do is submit a different thesis and I'll have full credit on the assignment.

Of course, I feel foolish for reacting so harshly last night and spending the majority of this morning wishing ill-will on my professor because he was actually incredibly nice and helpful when he met with me.  Not to mention, he spent about an hour with me working on my writing, which I always appreciate.  I just wonder what it is about my genes that makes me so prone to overreacting.  I blame it on my genes, even though I'm the only one in my family who reacts so strongly.  Will I ever be able to stop the intense knee-jerk emotions that drive all of this?  Or is this just one of those things that'll be a life-long challenge?

All I know is, I better figure it out soon, because I definitely can't teach others how to control their emotions and problem-solve in healthy ways if I myself let my emotions rule my life, right?