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Why our PS doesn't teach the classics


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I have been lurking here for a long time, and since we don't homeschool yet (will be starting this fall) I don't post much, but I just have to get opinions on this.

 

My oldest is in middle school, grade 6. We had conferences a few weeks back and I was asking his Language Arts teacher some questions about what is taught during this 2 hour advanced class block. I specifically asked about what the kids were reading. She said they pretty much read whatever they wanted. I asked if they read any classics and she said that there were some excerpts (she pronounced exerts) in their textbooks, but that the school district is redefining what are considered classics. She went on to say that what we consider classics weren't being taught anymore because of racial references to which they don't want to expose the students.

 

For me, while I agree that there are derogatory words in certain classic literature that I certainly don't want my children to use, I do want them to try to understand the full impact of what life was like during the past and the suffering certain ethnic groups have had to endure throughout history and, unfortunately, these ugly words are part of that truth. I think it's hard to get the full impact without them. I do think that facing our past mistakes is the best way to prevent history from repeating itself.

 

What do you think about this??

 

Jen

ds 11

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Hmm...since when does a public school district get to decide what is a classic and what is not? I agree with you about the words. However, I think that's a cop out on their part. There are many many books in the Western Canon that do not include such words. I think they just don't want to have to deal with making kids work at the level that teaching classics would require.

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They don't teach classics because the reading level of the students won't allow it. School literature is dumbed down because kids are not used to reading challenging literature, find classics too tedious and boring, and some "education experts" have decided to settle for the least common denominator and have the kids read fluff to have them read anything at all.

I know of high school teachers who can not assign a book as homework but have to waste class time and read every line of a book in class.

 

There are very few classics which use objectionable words. It's an excuse, not a reason.

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They don't teach classics because the reading level of the students won't allow it. School literature is dumbed down because kids are not used to reading challenging literature, find classics too tedious and boring, and some "education experts" have decided to settle for the least common denominator and have the kids read fluff to have them read anything at all.

I know of high school teachers who can not assign a book as homework but have to waste class time and read every line of a book in class.

 

There are very few classics which use objectionable words. It's an excuse, not a reason.

 

:iagree:

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And even if a classic work had a racist concept, do we pretend that that part of history never existed? Do we not need to contemplate how previous generations handled racial and class distinctions? It's an important part of knowing how we got here! It's like saying we won't study history because we find reading about wars to be disturbing!

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They don't teach classics because the reading level of the students won't allow it. School literature is dumbed down because kids are not used to reading challenging literature, find classics too tedious and boring, and some "education experts" have decided to settle for the least common denominator and have the kids read fluff to have them read anything at all.

I know of high school teachers who can not assign a book as homework but have to waste class time and read every line of a book in class.

 

There are very few classics which use objectionable words. It's an excuse, not a reason.

 

I agree, but I have also met many a ps teacher for whom the classics would be incomprehensible.

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I would also hope that schools would teak more "real literature," but a couple of quick comments:

 

Not just this public school but college English departments are reconsidering what is considered a classic. Not saying this is a good or bad thing, but it's definitely not limited to this school.

 

Keep in mind these are 6th graders. What classics do have in mind for them to read? I recall in 6th grade (way back in 1983) we read Tom Sawyer, but we were also close enough to do a field trip to Hannibal, MO. I could see Across Five Aprils and some of the classic animal stories working but depending on the ethnic composition of the school they may feel some items are left untouched to avoid sue-happy parents.

 

Keep in mind that reading a classic novel also requires a copy of the book for each student. I know that on this board we tend to be book purchasers but after buying the standard reading curriculum textbook many schools don't have funds for individual copies of other books--particularly if you want the students to be able to take them home for studying. Just how many 6th graders are in your middle school? Keep in mind I would prefer they toss the reading textbooks and have real books but that takes time to accomplish.

 

Just some friendly thoughts from your friendly neighborhood school board member. :001_smile:

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I would also hope that schools would teak more "real literature," but a couple of quick comments:

 

Not just this public school but college English departments are reconsidering what is considered a classic. Not saying this is a good or bad thing, but it's definitely not limited to this school.

 

Keep in mind these are 6th graders. What classics do have in mind for them to read? I recall in 6th grade (way back in 1983) we read Tom Sawyer, but we were also close enough to do a field trip to Hannibal, MO. I could see Across Five Aprils and some of the classic animal stories working but depending on the ethnic composition of the school they may feel some items are left untouched to avoid sue-happy parents.

 

Keep in mind that reading a classic novel also requires a copy of the book for each student. I know that on this board we tend to be book purchasers but after buying the standard reading curriculum textbook many schools don't have funds for individual copies of other books--particularly if you want the students to be able to take them home for studying. Just how many 6th graders are in your middle school? Keep in mind I would prefer they toss the reading textbooks and have real books but that takes time to accomplish.

 

Just some friendly thoughts from your friendly neighborhood school board member. :001_smile:

 

This teacher's response also covered the remainder of middle school as well as high school level, not just 6th grade. This school district as a whole was pretty much disposing of classic literature in favor of newer books and student choice.

 

I don't know how many 6th graders are in the school, but it is large. Our district is the largest in our state and has struggled with funding for a long time. By struggle I mean double digit million dollar deficits annually, not just slight funding issues. Our elementary class sizes are large, in the 30s per class, so I would imagine that the middle school is the same or larger.

 

I agree with your comment on textbooks. I wanted to gag when she said that; as if reading and excerpt is the same as reading an entire book. Ugh.

 

And the reading level point mentioned earlier is a good one. In this day of Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones, many students have never been exposed to language contained in classic pieces. My son, who has always been considered advanced, started this year in his Advanced Language Arts class unable to write a complete sentence or name parts of speech. This was acceptable somehow to the teacher, maybe even considered normal. It was then I discovered that grammar is no longer taught in our elementary school so I had to start adding that into to our already extensive afterschooling schedule.

 

Any questions as to why we are planning to homeschool next year:glare:?

 

Jen

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This teacher's response also covered the remainder of middle school as well as high school level, not just 6th grade. This school district as a whole was pretty much disposing of classic literature in favor of newer books and student choice.

 

 

Goodness! I didn't catch from your original post that this was the case throughout high school. For 6th grade, I wouldn't be happy but could "suck it up." For 7th and 8th, I'd be wondering what they are doing, and for high school I would be throwing a hissy fit. I would want to see the scope and sequence for the English curriculum and probably be seriously considering pulling my kids from school too. I'm not expecting great literary analysis at the high school level, but at least two classic novels a year and a play (preferably Shakespeare) are fairly common for high school English and more for college prep and AP type classes.

 

Best of luck as you switch to full time home schooling.

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The ps teachers I've talked with have shared that they consider reading and teaching the classics to be "elitist". I even had one (a friend's mother) write me a letter telling me that I was elitist to even consider homeschooling! (This was before we started.) At first I was angry and offended. Now, I look back on it and laugh. :lol:

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Hmmm.... I thought the very term "classic" designated a work that was of such quality to be timeless. The "changing nature of classic" argument doesn't make sense to me. I accept that more works would be added to the category of what is deemed classic, but why would there be subtractions?

 

If they're going to cop out they ought to at least be gutsy enough to say that they are no longer studying the classics in favor of evaluating more politically correct works (ahem, apart from exerting themslves over those "exerts").

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And even if a classic work had a racist concept, do we pretend that that part of history never existed? Do we not need to contemplate how previous generations handled racial and class distinctions? It's an important part of knowing how we got here! It's like saying we won't study history because we find reading about wars to be disturbing!

:iagree:

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Goodness! I didn't catch from your original post that this was the case throughout high school. For 6th grade, I wouldn't be happy but could "suck it up." For 7th and 8th, I'd be wondering what they are doing, and for high school I would be throwing a hissy fit. I would want to see the scope and sequence for the English curriculum and probably be seriously considering pulling my kids from school too. I'm not expecting great literary analysis at the high school level, but at least two classic novels a year and a play (preferably Shakespeare) are fairly common for high school English and more for college prep and AP type classes.

 

Best of luck as you switch to full time home schooling.

 

I honestly don't know how much she really knows about what is or isn't taught at the high school level since she teaches 6th grade ILA and our middle and high schools are separate. It's very difficult to find any detail in scope and sequence. Of course, I think I'm the only parent in the district that actually scours the district website looking for this:tongue_smilie:. Since we do have AP classes at the high school level you'd think there would be some classic literature taught somewhere, but after this conversation I guess I'm not sure.

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The ps teachers I've talked with have shared that they consider reading and teaching the classics to be "elitist". I even had one (a friend's mother) write me a letter telling me that I was elitist to even consider homeschooling! (This was before we started.) At first I was angry and offended. Now, I look back on it and laugh. :lol:

 

That's just sad! What's elitist is assuming that children of a certain race or income level can't or won't appreciate classic literature. Certainly the schools should start gently, and work their way up to the more difficult pieces. But to completely deny them the privilege of Twain, Dickens and Shakespeare in favor of fast-food fiction is criminal.

 

I'm so glad we're homeschooling.

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They don't teach classics because the reading level of the students won't allow it. School literature is dumbed down because kids are not used to reading challenging literature, find classics too tedious and boring, and some "education experts" have decided to settle for the least common denominator and have the kids read fluff to have them read anything at all.

I know of high school teachers who can not assign a book as homework but have to waste class time and read every line of a book in class.

 

There are very few classics which use objectionable words. It's an excuse, not a reason.

 

:iagree:

 

Worded perfectly.

 

Danielle

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The classics have a harder reading level and often with age-appropriate concepts than modern books.

 

My children pretty much have exclusive access to pre-1923 books on their kindles (1000+ of them). J.K.Rowling, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Mary Norton, C.S.Lewis and Tolkein are the only in-copywrite authors they have on the kindle. The only paperback stories we have are the My Story and the American Girl books. If anything comes up, we discuss it and use it to increase learning.

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require any foundation in classic literature. Havard does offer classes teaching some classic literature but it in no way requires that a graduate take any of them. An individual can graduate from Harvard, and other "elite" schools, without ever encountering a classic.

 

 

The ps teachers I've talked with have shared that they consider reading and teaching the classics to be "elitist". I even had one (a friend's mother) write me a letter telling me that I was elitist to even consider homeschooling! (This was before we started.) At first I was angry and offended. Now, I look back on it and laugh. :lol:
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It's a sad fact all schools in the US are different. My youngest ds (Jr in public high school) has read many classics so far, including Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, Scarlet Letter, and several others. In Jr high (private school) they read Little Women and Little Men, also two of many.

 

Of course, in his AP comp class they read Tiger Mom. lol Very eclectic programming. :D

Edited by LibraryLover
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Hmmm.... I thought the very term "classic" designated a work that was of such quality to be timeless. The "changing nature of classic" argument doesn't make sense to me. I accept that more works would be added to the category of what is deemed classic, but why would there be subtractions?

 

If they're going to cop out they ought to at least be gutsy enough to say that they are no longer studying the classics in favor of evaluating more politically correct works (ahem, apart from exerting themslves over those "exerts").

Their argument makes sense if you take into consideration that they changed the meaning of the word "classic".

 

The "politically correct" way to change things starts with re-defining words. ;)

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I haven't read all the responses, but my guess is that they don't teach classics because the teachers themselves have little passion for great literature and/or simply don't have the time or energy to dive deep. Also, if I'm not mistaken, in public schools the school boards determine the curriculum? I tend to think that if families/parents valued great lit., then (with some tenacity) that's what their kids would get.

Edited by Susan in TN
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Their argument makes sense if you take into consideration that they changed the meaning of the word "classic".

 

The "politically correct" way to change things starts with re-defining words. ;)

 

But it sounds like people here want the list of "classics" to be totally stagnant. The point is that all classics were, at one time, contemporary. So if we limit "the classics" to books that were considered classics 50 or 100 years ago, we'll be missing out on a lot of amazing literature.

 

I think that's part of the problem; an increasing number of books are published every year. Some are horrible, most aren't that great, but a good number are really wonderful. You'll find that many people have a hard time narrowing down the "top" books of the 20th century to just 5 or 10 (the way we can do with many previous centuries), because so much truly beautiful, thought-providing, and "classic" literature was produced. And I think we see less of the older classics included because people want to be able to teach the newer classics.

 

Honestly, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, at all. A lot of the classics that have traditionally been taught to high school students--Romeo and Juliet, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter--are just not the best classics out there, by far. They're often boring. They're really not all that great--I honestly don't think WH is much more complex than Twilight, just older. And they turn students off to reading.

 

There are books you can appreciate much more as an adult than as a teen. I read Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time at 16, and hated it. I could not connect with it. I read it again at 22, and absolutely loved it. I sat weeping as I read the ending. I had the life experience to have the themes of the book resonate with me. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Just because a person might enjoy a book more at 25 than at 15 doesn't mean there's something wrong with them when they are 15, you know?

 

I think classics have a place in school literature curriculum--and I think, if we're talking about high school, you'd have to search to find a school that DIDN'T include some classics, and if we're talking about K-8, you'd find that historically most schools haven't included full-text classics at that level--but I think they need to be well-chosen. I don't know why somebody would hand a 15-year-old Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities unless they really wanted that teenager to think of reading as a chore. At that age, give them Jane Eyre or The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Finn or the narrative of Frederick Douglass. And also give them great stuff written by contemporary YA authors, because there has been quite a revolution in young adult literature in the last 10-15 years and, along with a lot of fluff and downright crap, some truly wonderful works have been produced. If they want to read Moby Dick one day, they can.

 

And I think that gets to another issue with why classics aren't taught: some are really, really long. It's not that students today somehow can't handle long books, but when testing becomes so important and covering a certain number of topics is an imperative, then spending the time needed to really get into a 700 page novel is impossible. Maybe, if you spent an entire semester reading and exploring Moby Dick, students would come to love it. But when you've got a ton of other things to cover, and it becomes a book students are expected to read in a few weeks and then report on, and then move on to something else, it just becomes a chore. I'm sure a lot of high school lit teachers would love to teach Moby Dick (although I don't know why!) or Middlemarch (that one I can understand) or David Copperfield, but fitting that into an already-packed curriculum where their main goal is to prepare students for a standardized test that will not be covering those works is just not going to be an option in many cases.

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I shudder to think of what the generation will look like after huge swaths of the population have not had to read many, if any, "classics".

 

At my school we read A Christmas Carol in 6th, Oliver Twist in 7th, and A Tale of Two Cities in 8th grade. Not to mention Twain, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Dreiser, Fitzgerald, Dostoyevsky, Camus, Steinbeck, the Iliad and the Odyssey (middle school), Canterbury Tales, Moliere, oh gosh.. so many books that I remember reading throughout my k-12 education... I do not hate Dickens. I can see where it is not something I would read on the subway, but these exposures expanded my brain in ways that Tiger Beat magazine could never do.

 

What they do is force you to think. Yes, some are dense or boring, but those are not universal truths. What one person thinks is like nails on a chalkboard could be like sweet music to another. How are you supposed to mature as a human being? By reading generally poorly written YA lit? Please. I HATED some books, but devoured others... I am sure we all have the same experiences like that.

 

The thing is that there are so many classic books, that you should be able to populate multiple years of education and never feel like you have done a proper job of it. With so many choices, why do schools fail in this way? I would think you could find a few classics that are generally not boring, insanely tedious, offensive, or too difficult given the amount of work out there. But, if you are used to drinking soda, water just doesn't satisfy as well.

 

Welcome to the new world of dumb and dumber.

 

(Sorry, but I think it is hideous to give up on kids like that. If they were given a challenge maybe they would rise up to it. Reason # 5236 I am glad I HS (not that I am counting or anything).

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But it sounds like people here want the list of "classics" to be totally stagnant. The point is that all classics were, at one time, contemporary. So if we limit "the classics" to books that were considered classics 50 or 100 years ago, we'll be missing out on a lot of amazing literature.

 

 

Not trying to be snarky... where would I find a list of contemporary books that are "destined to be classics"? The stuff I see on our library's YA new release shelf looks unappealing to me. It is often about extremely deviant behavior. I'm very open to considering some of the new classics, I just don't want to read through piles of subpar books to find them. :tongue_smilie: Do you know of a list, or a good blog?

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And I think that gets to another issue with why classics aren't taught: some are really, really long. It's not that students today somehow can't handle long books, but when testing becomes so important and covering a certain number of topics is an imperative, then spending the time needed to really get into a 700 page novel is impossible.

 

They don't have to read that in class. They could assign the reading as -gasp- homework. It's just that students and possibly their parents will complain about having to read a thick book at home -but it's not as if they did not have the time to read it. And then, in class, the discussion could focus on certain aspects - so a longer book does not have to take longer in the classroom.

 

I still see a distinction between contemporary literature and classics. Classics build the foundation of our culture and are constantly referenced in literature, art and music. So, one goal of literature education should be to familiarize students with these works so that they can even begin to understand modern literature - references to works like the Odyssey, Iliad, Aeneid, Bible, Norse mythology etc abound, and many books need an understanding of these to be fully understood.

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They don't have to read that in class. They could assign the reading as -gasp- homework. It's just that students and possibly their parents will complain about having to read a thick book at home -but it's not as if they did not have the time to read it. And then, in class, the discussion could focus on certain aspects - so a longer book does not have to take longer in the classroom.

 

I still see a distinction between contemporary literature and classics. Classics build the foundation of our culture and are constantly referenced in literature, art and music. So, one goal of literature education should be to familiarize students with these works so that they can even begin to understand modern literature - references to works like the Odyssey, Iliad, Aeneid, Bible, Norse mythology etc abound, and many books need an understanding of these to be fully understood.

 

:iagree: And isn't there still such a thing as modern lit classes?

 

It seems that the only opinions that are being valued in public education (at least in some schools) are contemporary ones. :tongue_smilie:

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..... Classics build the foundation of our culture and are constantly referenced in literature, art and music. So, one goal of literature education should be to familiarize students with these works so that they can even begin to understand modern literature - references to works like the Odyssey, Iliad, Aeneid, Bible, Norse mythology etc abound, and many books need an understanding of these to be fully understood.

 

Oh my, yes! Flavia de Luce mysteries wouldn't be nearly so fun without all those references!

 

(And I know what you mean - the Flavia novels are just a fun example.)

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They don't teach classics because the reading level of the students won't allow it. School literature is dumbed down because kids are not used to reading challenging literature, find classics too tedious and boring, and some "education experts" have decided to settle for the least common denominator and have the kids read fluff to have them read anything at all.

I know of high school teachers who can not assign a book as homework but have to waste class time and read every line of a book in class.

 

There are very few classics which use objectionable words. It's an excuse, not a reason.

 

:iagree:

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There maybe some high school level English teachers who have read and appreciate classics, but it's doubtful that many elementary level teachers have any interest.

 

Why would you make an assumption like that? You have no idea what "many elementary level teachers" enjoy reading. :confused:

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They don't teach classics because the reading level of the students won't allow it. School literature is dumbed down because kids are not used to reading challenging literature, find classics too tedious and boring, and some "education experts" have decided to settle for the least common denominator and have the kids read fluff to have them read anything at all.

 

They start this process very early. I was amazed that in "reading group", my 1st grader didn't actually read any books. They would make these little 6 page books which they cut out of paper and colored. Each page had one short sentence on it. That is all they read in reading group. And my son was supposedly in an advanced group. My first grade niece, who is in a different school system, slept over our house last weekend, and I found one of those little paper books in her pocket, and I was very sad for her.

 

 

I know of high school teachers who can not assign a book as homework but have to waste class time and read every line of a book in class.

 

My best friend teaches English and Drama at a public high school. She has to read the books and plays during class.

 

There are very few classics which use objectionable words. It's an excuse, not a reason.

 

:iagree: I can't even think of a response for that kind of reasoning.

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Not trying to be snarky... where would I find a list of contemporary books that are "destined to be classics"? The stuff I see on our library's YA new release shelf looks unappealing to me. It is often about extremely deviant behavior. I'm very open to considering some of the new classics, I just don't want to read through piles of subpar books to find them. :tongue_smilie: Do you know of a list, or a good blog?

 

The Modern Library's list of the best 100 20th century novels is a good place to start. I think it's a bit early to be coming up with 21st century choices, but I'd, at the very least, put Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas up there as contenders.

 

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/

 

I don't think any modern YA lit is destined to be a classic, because in general literature for young people isn't. But, it's much better quality, by and large, than the literature for teens that was around when we were younger. I'm not sure what people mean when they keep saying that YA lit today is "deviant"--does that mean it sometimes has gay characters?--but I think it can serve as a nice bridge into adult literature, especially since so much YA literature refers to or draws on classic books. So many of the classics I read as a teen I read because a contemporary novel I was reading made reference to it. Authors like Lois Lowry, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Markus Zusak, and M.T. Anderson are writing really thought-provoking books, often frequently referencing "classic" literature.

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They don't have to read that in class. They could assign the reading as -gasp- homework. It's just that students and possibly their parents will complain about having to read a thick book at home -but it's not as if they did not have the time to read it. And then, in class, the discussion could focus on certain aspects - so a longer book does not have to take longer in the classroom.

 

I don't think that changes the issue of classroom time. I do not see how a 700+ page novel could be meaningfully discussed in a high school classroom in less than 4-6 weeks. And that would be the bare minimum. Given that students will not be tested on that material when taking standardized tests, few teachers could justify the time. So, instead, the options are to cover the books in a too-fast, superficial manner, or to skip them entirely and stick to reading textbook excerpts followed by comprehension questions, which is exactly what students will encounter in standardized tests.

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They don't have to read that in class. They could assign the reading as -gasp- homework. It's just that students and possibly their parents will complain about having to read a thick book at home -but it's not as if they did not have the time to read it. And then, in class, the discussion could focus on certain aspects - so a longer book does not have to take longer in the classroom.

This is the way it was done at the schools I attended, yes. Assigned reading was something you did at home, school time was not wasted on it, but used to discuss the works which were assumed to have been read already. At the beginning of the academic year you knew at least a rough list with at least rough dates (for which date which work is to be prepared), and even if those tended to shift a bit, there was a general plan. Roughly 1-2 works were expected to be read each month this way for native language and literature class. The only things which were read in the class were anthology excerpts which dealt with works that were not assigned in their full forms, or shorter poetry, or some classical / modern foreign language readings which required a linguistic analysis too.

I see perfectly no reason why that should not function that way in schools too. I think Aeneid and Dante were the only two works which we read partially in class, but that was because they were Very Important and we needed somebody to guide the process because of the language and poetry aspect, plus those works are very very "dense".

 

We did not even have the work "partially assigned" (first chapter Monday, second and third Tuesday, etc.), you knew the date and had to read it by then.

 

No excuse for this situation, it just smells of intellectual laziness, nothing more.

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I've seen digital copies of Rowling's books online. I don't think the ones I saw were legal, but they are out there.

 

No, they're not legal. Rowling is opposed to having her books in digital form, though there are rumors that she might be softening her stance (fingers crossed). As of now though, they're not available legally.

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All freshmen at my son's high school study Homer their freshmen year. Guided classes are available to parents who are interested, too. The other selections are Shakespeare, Hesse, Edith Hamilton's Mythology, a few contemporary authors and various short stories and poems still TBA. I like what I'm seeing so far.

 

The high school offers quite a few different English classes all four years. Juniors and seniors can take a class called Great Books which is very popular and thought-provoking. It's been offered for decades, and many talk about how it influenced them throughout their lives.

 

My son's class studied Tom Sawyer this year (8th grade). We were encouraged to buy the book that didn't use the "n" word, but it was the only one that wasn't true to the original. I'm guessing they did so to avoid irking parents who would find it offensive and inappropriate.

Edited by MBM
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That is how it was when I was in school too. Unfortunately, I don't think even half the class was ever prepared for the discussions and it was often a painful experience to "discuss" it in class. It makes me sad how little so many of my classmates seemed to care about any of it.

It happens that somebody doesn't read, or really didn't have time, or really didn't click with a particular work and couldn't finish - if they catch him (if it's the work for which they issue a test, or an unexpected oral examination or something) it is a bit more tough as it might reflect on the grade, but for the most part, even our professors were quite tolerant of such exceptions, as long as the majority did read and was ready to discuss and those that didn't were few and not constantly the same people. I think I "skipped" one reading and half-read one more :tongue_smilie:, but we're literally talking two books out of more than several dozens read over five years. And of course, there are stuff you can't skip, like Dante or Manzoni, because nobody in their right mind will allow you to get away with the fundamentals of national literature; but if you missed out on one odd Balzac, and were lucky enough not to ever be examined on it, and were present in the class enough to pick up the basic cultural context, it was fine. The problem is never to skip one odd work in the assigned framework, because it was a good and functional framework even without that one work - but if you regularly skipped, every other work, then the framework made no sense or reference to you and your education was turning from structured, systematic to merely circumstantial and fitty, which nobody was willing to allow you.

 

Personally, I find that approach quite good, as I can't fathom why would 13-19yos (which is a general age frame for high school, give or take one year) need to be indulged with class readings and useless activities and make such a fuss out of reading one or two books per month. Like you describe, when that element of personal conscience and contribution is missing, so it's not about odd exceptions but a regular occurance, it really becomes pointless to "discuss" things. Sigh. I'm sorry you had such an experience, literature lessons are among my very fond school memories, I really wish everybody could have such a wonderful experience. :( Literacy in one's native language and civilization, followed up by a broader cultural context and additional readings, IS one of the cornerstones of one's education, if not THE cornerstone of it. Whenever you neglect that, all of education is going to suffer.

Edited by Ester Maria
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Personally, I find that approach quite good, as I can't fathom why would 13-19yos (which is a general age frame for high school, give or take one year) need to be indulged with class readings and useless activities and make such a fuss out of reading one or two books per month.

 

I think reading two classics per month, or even one longer classic, IS too much in that age range. Students are taking many other courses. Expecting them to read 200 pages per week of a novel that is challenging for well-educated adults IS expecting a lot, especially if we are expecting anything more than a very shallow reading.

 

I took a seminar on the 18th century novel in grad school. We read a book a week, or had two weeks if it was a very long book. We were grad students studying English literature, who only had 2-3 other classes we were taking at the time. And I don't think there was a single week where most students read the entire book, much less every student. Trying to get through Middlemarch in two weeks is extremely tough, even for educated, interested adults, if you are reading it in a serious, critical way.

 

Assuming we want our kids to learn to read in serious, critical ways, and not just to do rushed, shallow readings of texts, I don't think we're doing any favors by piling on the readings. That's just going to encourage them to turn to Spark Notes or summaries and, quite frankly, they'll probably get more out of those summaries than they would out of a rushed, shallow reading of the original text. I'd much rather see students study fewer classics but in more depth.

Edited by twoforjoy
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The Modern Library's list of the best 100 20th century novels is a good place to start. I think it's a bit early to be coming up with 21st century choices, but I'd, at the very least, put Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas up there as contenders.

 

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/100-best-novels/

 

 

 

 

Thanks, I'll look at those.

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Please refrain from calling Elementary teachers dumb. Or unmotivated, or uninterested in things like classic lit.

 

I can see how some children don't have a great deal of time for lit homework--sports practice takes up about 2 hours after school for high schoolers. And there's all the other classes they have homework in, too. Not saying it couldn't be done, just think it won't be. Too bad, too.

 

I don't mind a rather shallow reading of several classics, as long as some are treated more indepth. The life experience alone of 15-18 year olds is going to dictate a rather shallow reading of some of the GBs, anyway. Hopefully they will revisit later in life.

 

YA fiction? Yuck. Every book seems to deal with Issues--divorce, bullying, drug/alcohol/sex, being gay, etc. It's not that the issues are wrong to talk about or learn about, or whatever, but the level of hopelessness in so many of those books, and the way it's all about the kids handling the Issues on their own, because of dumb parents and bad, outdated society--blahhhh. I'd rather my kid learn the cautionary tales of young love and whatnot thru something classic, with beautiful language and a meaningful outcome.

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I agree it is too much for all the other things students are expected to do. My life as a teen was filled with a lot less frill and extracurricular stuff than teens seem to have now. Kids now are shoving homework in between their sports, dance lessons, etc. etc. And everyone seems to think all of that stuff is necessary and important. How does one do it all?

 

About 10 years ago I used to teach SAT prep classes. The sections I taught ran from 6-7:30 and 7:30 to 9 at night. The number of students who, even in the later section, came into the class with a bagged dinner because they'd gone straight to a sports practice after school, then straight from practice to this class, was shocking. It was 7:30 at night and they hadn't had a chance to be home. When were they going to do their homework? When they got home from SAT prep, after 7 hours at school, 2-3 hours of sports, and then an hour and a half of class? Even if they managed to get it done, there's no way they were giving their homework the attention it would require for them to get much out of it. From what I've seen, things have only gotten worse in the ensuing decade.

 

We just can't have it all. If we want our kids to read classics, then we can't expect them to have these super-impressive college resumes that include several varsity sports and leadership in numerous extracurricular clubs and four years of advanced academics in every subject. If we want our kids to have super-impressive resumes and to take 4-5 AP courses their junior and senior years, then we can't expect them to have time to sit down and read Moby Dick in any serious way. We need to scale back expectations in one area or another.

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I think reading two classics per month, or even one longer classic, IS too much in that age range. Students are taking many other courses. Expecting them to read 200 pages per week of a novel that is challenging for well-educated adults IS expecting a lot, especially if we are expecting anything more than a very shallow reading.

I disagree. I firmly believe that high school is the time to set up the context: i.e. a reading in the diachrony, not in the synchrony and specific focus on less, but more in-depth.

 

The type of seminar work you describe is a university-level thing and as such belongs to universities, not to high schools. High schools should by definition still be broad - and then, those who want more, can always do so and go in-depth, or choose a particular work for their graduation thesis, etc. Generations upon generations of people grew up with those expectations, and I still find them to be much better conversants about literature than people from school systems which focused on less, but beat it to depths (very often completely absurd and decontextualized ones for this level of education). What university education tries to accomplish is miles away from what high school literature education - tied to history studies, foreign and classical languages and overall formation of the understanding of the genesis of one's cultural context - is trying to accomplish. I also find incredible superficiality and lack of these basics in scholars who did not go through diachrony, who lack this specific understanding, because they did not go through the period in which chronological breadth was accentuated.

 

Mind you, I do not expect lycee kids to "get" Dante. It takes a life to "get" him, to communicate with him on his own terms... but what we can, and should get, are three solid years of dealing with Comedy, accentuation on the linguistic aspect, and going through the most important cantos with children (10ish from each canticle), touching upon it... and leaving mature reflections for mature age: most of those are works to which an educated person will be going back in the course of their lifetime, developing a more personal relationship with it, and that is where depth (whether personal or academic) kicks in. The rest, they need a basic context, even more if they will not be going back to the work, so going through those cantos is of even greater importance to them to understand the "landmarks" on the "landscape" of Italian literature and culture, get at least some orientir, and end up with a basic understanding.

 

Same with Manzoni. Nobody pretends kids to "get" those stuff "fully" - extracurriculars, additionally scheduled discussions in groups outside of school classes, graduation theses for the interested students... are some of the ways of helping those who want to understand it better. The rest need a cultural literacy gained through reading Manzoni, some reflections and general remarks, and the experience of participating in the dialogue of texts.

 

Judging from the insights I got by students educated in a seminar-style approach in high schools, they surpisingy do not go much deeper than students educated like we were anyway. Unless they go sophisizing, reading into the work and "feeling" it, which are some of the craziest trends in literature pedagogy of the recent decades. High school should remain on philological analysis, even slightly positivist bent in terms of socio-cultural context (I cannot believe I am actually advocating it LOL, but IF there is a time and place for that, it is in high school) and observation of formal qualities of the work. It is not the time to "play sociologists and psychologists", as I like to say, when I see to what uncritical nonsense such work often goes down to, and which is as such focus of entirely different disciplines to be dealt with properly, not literary analysis. It is one of my pet peeves and I refuse doing it (one of the reasons why I will no longer teach, in fact). That is NOT the approach to literature as art, as skill, with particular ways of linguistic expression, in general relation to the overall context of studies, which is in high school that socio-historico-cultural one.

 

Because of all of that, I think reading one to two books a month is a perfectly reasonable aim, in touch with what high school education attempts to accomplish. I actually nearly fainted when I read your response :tongue_smilie:, as it completely escapes me how can one believe that reading a work to two a month is too much. Maybe if you tried to squeeze both Homeric epics into a month, yes, but otherwise? Perfectly possible. In fact, the lack of time also serves as a great "vaccine" against going into the directions of other disciplines and focusing on what is literary in that text and how that relates to our educational framework.

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Our ps doesn't teach many of the classics either - in any grade. What I would like to see happen is that they offered a choice to kids. Those who wished for a more classical based English class could take it. Those who wished for a more shallow class could do the same. I actually wish this were true for all academic classes.

 

What we get is different levels. For our school this is One, Two, and Three. One is for students who are not going on to college and who mainly wish to graduate high school. Their courses are around an 8th grade level. Two is for "normal" kids who may go to 2 or 4 year schools if they go on to college. Three is supposed to be for 4 year college bound students. Two and Three often have no differences in content or maybe have to write a 4 - 5 page paper instead of 2 - 3 pages.

 

Practically all kids are lumped into the middle group with a generic education. And the scores/results from the generic education at our school are fairly dismal (below state average). Kids who wanted more could do it if they genuinely had a choice and differing content. Those who wish for less would still have it.

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