Friday, April 24, 2009

Read 'em all, let time sort 'em out

Roy on forcing high school kids to read books they don't have a chance of understanding, much less enjoying:
If this sounds harsh -- if you think students should be inculcated with the joy of reading, rather than frog-marched through big books -- please take a moment to gather your memories of high school, and not just your own experience but also those of your classmates, as you perceived them. Then, consider: at which are schools better -- at instruction, or at enlightenment? If your mind was awakened in high school, congratulations, but chances are it would have awakened in any case, whether you had school or not. But you were less likely to have learned on your own polynomial equations, how to write a paper, historical analysis, or other such building blocks of intellectual life. I didn't want to learn these things, but I was taught them nonetheless, and I'm grateful for the experience.
As someone who barely made it through high school alive, having nearly been eaten from the inside-out by the seething hatred for the place that sat in me like a tape-worm and gnawed at me every single day I spent within its walls (forcing me, once drinking in the afternoon was a feasible alternative, to spend as little time there as possible), I have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of being forced to read anything. (A reaction, by the way, that has only been sharpened by many long nights yawning and grumbling through yet another book under review.)

However, Roy's point – that finding something teens want is a fool's errand, so you might as well give them something they need – is a good one. There are books that went right by me during those days that never quite left me. And happy accidents happen: some people who know me are rightly sick of me relating how, in Grade 9 English, I laughed at all the dirty jokes in Shakespeare, but there it is. I still read the stuff. (And still laugh.)

Part of the reason I forced my son to watch Kurosawa movies and Grand Illusion with me back when he was barely four years old: I hoped the experience would linger. (That and the fact that I'm a selfish bastard...)

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