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.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more, Erin! I'm shocked that the discussion in your class went that way. I am SO grateful that I read the classics in high school! And whoever said that Shakespeare isn't worth reading is clearly insane.