Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Teaching students to enjoy literature

I really enjoyed This Article on teaching students to appreciate and enjoy, rather than to analyze, the classics.

I still remember how I used to DREAD poetry units in junior high and high school. We'd sit there, squirming uncomfortably in our seats, as the teacher explained that Everything. Was. About. Sex. Or maybe death. No, wait, death was about sex too.

I suppose they thought that this would make the poems more interesting to us. (All teens are interested in sex!) Instead, it took beautiful language and turned it into a game where we got to see who had the dirtiest mind.

There is a world of difference between being able to analyze a work and being able to enjoy it. I took years to recover from the feminist critique of "The Little Engine That Could" lobbed at us on the first day of AP English.

In fact, I still flinch a little every time I read it to my children. At least they enjoy it. After all, it has trains, toys, a heart-wrenching conflict, and a heroic sacrifice. What's not to like?

Well, I remember what's not to like, and it's triumph of acting that I can read the story brightly, without wincing.

In the past, it might not have been necessary to teach children to enjoy literature... maybe in a more literary culture children learned enjoyment at home. (Or maybe not. After all, Anne of Green Gables went to great lengths to make her students love beautiful things.)

This is one reason I'm glad to be home-schooling. My children can meet literary works as friends long before they're taught to pound the life out of them with the hammers of Marx and Freud.


Joanne said...

So true. My daughters are English majors in college, and the obsession never ends. The beauty of the writing and the stories has been lost.

Anonymous said...

I think in this world, not many people appreciate literature anymore since it's very removed from spoken English.. I'm very guilty of that too

Deirdre Mundy said...

That's a good point about the difference between written English and spoken English.

This is where storytimes and read-alouds really shine--- they help kids make the leap from English as it's spoken every day to English as it's written.

And there are tons of public service announcements urging parents to read to their kids 20 minutes a day... But twenty minutes has always struck me as awfully short.....

And if the PARENTS don't enjoy reading novels, they won't enjoy reading them aloud to their kids, and so the kids will grow up to see literatire as something good for you (like foul-tasting medicine) rather than a treat.

I'm not sure there's a good cure for this-- are we doomed to have a society divided by heredity and tradition into families of book-lovers and book-loathers?