Sunday, February 13, 2011
A week ago, Julia Steiny, the education writer for the Providence Journal, wrote a terrific, yet upsetting, article for the Providence Journal, about the books being assigned to HS students by their English teachers. She began the article by discussing the great literature she was assigned in HS and the fact that this challenging literature was assigned not only to broaden the students' literary skills, but also to build wisdom and "understanding of how and why different people, in different circumstances, make decisions, mistakes, sacrifices". Steiny goes on to say that "one of the great virtues of fiction is that it gives us the benefit of someone else's experience, at the remove of fiction". This is brilliant. I've never really been able to articulate what it is that draws me to fiction, but this is it. It lets me experience "at the remove of fiction" how someone might behave in various circumstances. I think this also plays into how I choose the stories I do. I choose novels based on how interesting the story is to me. At some unconscious level I choose stories about situations that somehow "speak" to me. For me, reading fiction is, on some level, educational.
What made Steiny's article upsetting was that she goes on to explain that most states (RI included) are currently adopting the new Common Core standards, which will require students to read more "informational texts" and "considerably less fiction". Additionally, she goes on to state that even now, the fiction that is being assigned to our students is of a much less challenging nature than that which I was exposed to. How sad. (And don't even get me started on what has been done to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).
I will be the first to admit that I didn't appreciate many of the books I read in HS. For the most part, their greatness was lost on my teenage self. But I am thankful for having been afforded the opportunity of guided reading under the tutelage of some wonderful English teachers. And while I most likely did not come away with a full understanding of those great works of fiction, I most certainly did come away with a foundation of learning on which to build a deeper understanding. And I've found that now when I go back and revisit those great classics of English literature I readily recognize their greatness. And for that I credit my HS English teachers and the challenging curriculum to which I was exposed.
I have had a first hand look at the HS English curriculum in my town for the past 6 years and I have been impressed by the wide variety of both classic English and World Literature that my daughters have been assigned in their various classes. They have probably read even more than I did as a HS student. I certainly hope that this continues after RI adopts the Common Core standards. Anything less would be a real loss.
How about you? Were you required to read challenging literature in HS? If so, are you glad? If not, do you wish you had been? Have you revisited any of the required texts as an adult? I'd love to hear your thoughts.