Students and teachers take a second look at the required reading curriculum
October 26, 2016
Filed under Focus
Required reading. Two simple words that can cause stress, boredom, and maybe even the slightest grunt or roll of the eyes. It’s no secret than many high school students consider reading assigned English texts to be a chore, not a fun activity for a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Although it may be thought of as a waste of time by many high schoolers, English teachers agree that it is a vital factor in education that helps turn students into creative, critical thinkers that our world desperately needs today.
But in order to fulfill this ambitious task, teachers must carefully select works that range in numerous amplitudes to expose students to different ideas and experiences that will hopefully resonate with them for the rest of their lives.
Drew Johnson ‘19 now looks at the world through a different lens after reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in ninth grade.
“It made me think more critically of what I’m being told,” Johnston explains.
He found similarities between the plot and what our technology-driven country is like today which consequently created a change of perspective.
Fahrenheit 451 is purposely a part of the curriculum to elicit this kind of response, as are all other English texts read from freshman to senior year.
“To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a classic read by high schoolers for a reason: it is an elegantly written tale of compassion and equality which are a benchmark of civics to which every student should be exposed,” English teacher Christopher Stabile II said.
His mentality of required reading is that it should challenge students to not look at a book having a single message, but instead, a state of mind.
However, this respect for a book can be demolished by students when the text is written differently than what most American teenagers are accustomed to, whether it is through the language or the subject itself.
For example, The Odyssey is Gina Viviano’s ‘19 least favorite text she has read so far “because it is long and sometimes confusing,” not to mention written differently than how we talk today, which makes the epic poem less exciting and navigable.
Although it can be thought of as a complex, boring text, it achieves the goal of being different.
There is one genre that can sometimes fail this goal of diversity that a few English teachers wouldn’t mind seeing less of in the English curriculum.
“We tend to focus heavily on dystopian stories; the repetitive nature of the message could be substituted for works that introduce a different voice or style,” Stabile said.
A few examples of valuable texts that Jane Hazle, also an English teacher, considers to be important to the curriculum or should be added are Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, short stories of Ernest Hemingway (including “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”), and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses an artful style to tell a story which can help readers become stronger writers themselves, while The Fire Next Time “gives readers a greater understanding of our country and the crucial need for an ongoing conversation about the most crucial American issue,” Hazle said.
Students tremendously benefit from required reading assignments but can take them for granted, labeling texts as tedious and unproductive. Inevitably, there will be books that high schoolers will dread to read, and everyone, including teachers, know that this will not change.
But the one thing that can change is the students’ perspective on the assignment and the text itself. A high schooler is not expected to love reading every single book they are given in English class. But what is important is that they acknowledge the beauty of the words and the ideas they form, because the immense power of literature is, without a doubt, worth taking in.