Skip to comments.High school reading: Classics or contemporary?
Posted on 03/07/2014 8:10:06 AM PST by Borges
Love it or loathe it, Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" has served as a rite of passage for high school students for generations.
In addition to the Bard, teachers have long relied on Socrates, Kafka, Steinbeck and a host of other authors whose works earned the distinction of being a classic albeit rarely landed on teens' top 10 lists.
While few dare challenge the texts as exceptional literature, high school teachers throughout the Chicago area and beyond are swapping out the canon for the contemporary, arguing that their selections impart the same themes and skills, with one important caveat:
Students don't audibly groan when they whip out their books at the start of English class.
For the first time in decades, teachers in northwest suburban Township High School District 214 aren't teaching "Romeo and Juliet" this year to the majority of freshmen. "Hamlet" didn't make the cut in some classes in Glenbrook High Schools District 225. And some teachers at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire replaced Kafka with "Life of Pi," a novel written in (gasp) 2001.
(Excerpt) Read more at chicagotribune.com ...
I disliked Shakespeare in general but I really loathed Chaucer. I prefer the likes of Melville, Milton, and Hawthorne.
Shakespeare and Chaucer too bawdy for you?
My own pet peeve...plays were meant to be acted out, not read. A few skilled actors can turn “boring” Shakespeare into “great” Shakespeare.
My son was reciting Shakespeare the other day for a class presentation.
I told him to use it to woo the babes. I think that it was the first time he had heard the term woo. But he got my point.
My wife looked at me as if I had worms crawling out of my ears. She still thinks of my son as a little baby.
I found Chaucer a hard read and boring.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’
He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
He holds him with his glittering eye
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.
And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ‘em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
Great Art ended when the Renaissance ended. Everything else since then is mostly crap.
The reason kids groan is due to poor teachers, who do not know how to make literature exciting and interesting - Chaucer being a case in point.
Teach them how to draw the human form correctly, teach them how to write in Old and Middle English. Bring back Latin and Greek so they can read the originals by Aristotle and Julius Caesar. Hell, just teach them English, spelling, cursive writing, and grammar (as well as a good grounding in history, basic science, and basic math - without a calculator!).
Good teachers can make even the most putatively dull or boring subject matter interesting and exciting, making the kids want to learn.
Knowledge is power, ignorance merely makes a good socialist voter.
i think all kids should be required to read harry potter and when they’re in junior high, 50 shades of gray...doesn’t everyone? /sarcasm
what they should be reading is ayn rand
and let’s not forget walter the farting dog
My English teacher tried to introduce me (and the rest of class of course) to Cooleridge, didn’t stick. Then I discovered Iron Maiden and they taught me to appreciate Cooleridge. Which is probably when I started forming my opinion that the way we teach literature in high school actually teaches primarily teaches kids to hate literature.
Both. But make it clear that some are classics in the truest sense, while the others have potential but have not lived long enough to have established their bona fides.
There’s something to be said for the “Schoolhouse Rock” approach.
I once had a Newfie named Peeve. He was my pet, ... .
Nearly all of my own appreciation of great pieces of literature came from "circling back", that is, considering the work after I'd built up a context and understood the language and the issues being addressed from my own life experience. Shakespeare was like that - "how sharper than a serpent's tooth / to have a thankless child" meant nothing to me at 12. Like a joke, it loses its punch if you have to have the references explained.
About the best thing you can do for an individual student is treat him or her as an individual, each at a different stage of understanding. That doesn't translate well to assembly-line classrooms. It does translate well to a tutor/pupil relationship, which is why the Brits enjoyed such success with that model. It isn't very economical, to be sure, but it's cheaper than failure.
I’ve read bits of Chaucer and Milton, a couple, maybe three of Melville, but I just couldn’t stay concentrated with Hawthorne.
Give me Shakespeare.
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I had my son memorize Lord Byron’s She walks in Beauty . It was for Mother’s Day but I told him women would positively melt at hearing those verses!
That’s strange. I was able to without logging in.
The best thing about Shakespeare is the universal themes. Change the costumes, location, and date and Romeo and Juliet becomes West Side Story. The Tempest becomes Forbidden planet. And if you really want a stretch Henry V becomes Seven Samurai, which becomes The Magnificent Seven.
Love every creepy story he ever told.
I really enjoyed my Lit classes in College. Maybe because I had to read it in College, maybe because I was a little more mature.
However, I really didn’t enjoy literature in High School.
It’s the entertainment vs chore aspect. When teachers present an epic they want you analyze the structure and what does this symbolize and what’s the moral and all these things that distract you from the fact that it’s actually a pretty cool poem with a neat story that somebody really needs to turn into a horror film (daSilva’s film is cool but a bit arthouse). When Maiden performs the song live Dickenson introduces it as what not to do when a bird #$%^s on you, instantly giving you permission to enjoy it, and that makes you listen to it over and over, and eventually you’ll read the liner notes and maybe look up the poem and you read that a few times. It’s really hard to appreciate something you don’t enjoy, especially when you’re young, but we try to teach appreciation without joy.
Just taught my Senior AP class Mariner (and other Romantic Poetry) last week, doing Frankenstein this week. I really enjoy Brit. Lit. Romantic and Victorian eras. Then, of course, there’s Hamlet...
She Walks in Beauty
By Lord Byron (George Gordon)
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all thats best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens oer her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and oer that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Yeah....I want my son to have the type of girl who likes all that romance stuff! Just like the girl his daddy married! ;). Thanks for posting...and best wishes to your family!
My Lit classes in College covered all of the greats. Although, we only read Shakespeare’s sonnets. So I haven’t read Hamlet.
At the time I was a bit annoyed with all of the reading. I was an engineering major and had my hands full with my technical classes. But then it grew on me and I really enjoyed my literature classes.
Philosphy, prose, poetry. Philosophy is where I was first exposed to The Communist Manifesto by Marx.
But I will never forget the Mariner.
Why does reading have to be miserable? What teen girl wants to read Silas Marner? If you don’t have something to get kids engaged, what good does it do other than give kids a distaste for reading?
My son, too. I am my son’s father and he loves and respects his mother. So, I have great hope for him.
There's a great Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart:
It's available from Netflix. Both my teens loved it (they are big Whovians and Trekkies), but that could be because they have watched and read much Shakespeare.
Audible.com has some great audio versions of Shakespeare called Shakespeare Understood--it's compete versions of the Bard's plays, acted out in audio format, but including additional narration that explains what's going on so listeners aren't lost. I feel it's a great compromise between reading a play (slower, gives more time for reflection and analysis) and watching a play (best for enjoyment, what it was meant for).
One of the greatest things for me was to be “forced” to read literature in College. It was required for my degree. I disliked it at first but it grew on me and towards my senior year, I really enjoyed the lit classes.
I took a Victorian Poetry course that blew me away and really put the bug in me for that era I love trying to get my students to appreciate the mounting “anxiety” of those poets (Tennyson, Arnold, Hopkins, etc.) as we trace through the historical movement toward the despair of modernism. It actually serves as a basis for understanding much of the narcissism and apathy of our world today.
But, hey, if you want to see something special, watch Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Hamlet. It presents the entire play (4 hours worth) and is visually enthralling. For the most part, his Hamlet is very well done, but his “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I” soliloquy will bring chills to your spine...emotionally, spot on.
A colleague of mine often told his classes that his job was not to cater to his students’ current taste but to enhance it through the study of, what those who read extensively have deemed, “great works.”
I used to tell my students that their opinions about books were simply not valid as they had not done enough reading to be able to fairly judge whether a book was “good” or not. Sounds smug, sure...but it’s also accurate (more smugness!)
I am fortunate that we live in the city with the only re-creation of Shakespeare’s Black Friars Theater. They have 3-4 plays running at a time and we are ushers so we get to see them for free. The acting is top notch and they cycle through all the plays in about 5 years time. They have begun to add Marlow, Middleton, and others to the repertoire. In 7 years we have yet to see a bad performance.
Wow. Sounds like a fun class. And High School, too. Introduce them early! For me, it was almost too late.
And thank you for the suggestion. My son might enjoy it too. I’ll look for it.
My son is reading a lot more than I did at his age. He is a junoior in high school. Right now he is reading book 1 of the Game of Thrones and the Shining. I was joking with him that he will start blending the two books.
They’re reading those two books for class?
Part of the attraction of being a secondary teacher is to make your students suffer in revenge for their being young. I actually had a junior high school tell me that once with a straight face. He broke out into laughter when my jaw hit the floor. He was my favorite teacher, an unregenerate old socialist who didn’t proselytize, and that’s a good thing, because he’s a conservative now. :-)
<I found Chaucer a hard read and boring.
It helps to read it out loud. Then you can really hear the beauty of the words and the sound, rather than the variable spelling, is what gets your attention, so that you can follow the story.
I prefer this version
see post #42
I wore out 1 cassette of Live After Death and 2 Power Slaves before finally getting them on CD.
No. Lol. Those books probably wouldn’t be allowed in high school. At least the Game of Thrones wouldn’t be.
For Christmas, we gave my son the Stephen King classics: The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Needful Things (my wife is a fan). He has been watching the Game of Thrones series on DVD and decided that he liked it so much that he bought the book. His friend recommended it.
The Shakespeare recitation was for school.
Funny story: my wife had never read “To Kill A Mockingbird” and she decided to read it after my son was done with it. She said it is one of the BEST books she had ever read. Lol.
Lol. Cool song!
Up the Irons!
My son is a freshman in high school IB program and he is currently reading The Odyssey and they are reading Romeo & Juliet next.
Guess there’s really no point in studying the history and evolution of English in an English class.
If they want “the same themes”, why don’t they just read comic books.
I just don’t see how instilling a loathing of reading in young people and then lamenting the low information voter makes any sense at all.
I know a guy who had a teacher like that. He is proud of not having read a book since he graduated. And he votes like every other low info voter. I had a great teacher who encouraged reading even though she didn’t care for my choice of Sweet Valley High. Currently reading a biography of Reagan, just finished The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, which was fascinating.
Just different styles I guess, but I know which one I think was better.