I think it's more than just that but I think that's part of it. When I was in high school we had to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I hated it, a few years later I came across a copy and decided try it again, I loved it.
I also think it includes other things such as interest. A lot of people don't have interest in reading these days. When I get excited and talk about a book a lot of people my age look at me like I'm crazy.
Discussion, when I had to read certain things, even if I didn't like the book (for example I don't like Romeo and Juliet, I read it before it was required, so discussion was easy for me). I was reading it in two different classes. My general English class I hated the discussion and couldn't even imagine any part of the book I liked because the conversations were so undereducated and ridiculous. In my Creative Writing class we had to read it and I was more interested in the book than ever because of the conversations around it. -another reason this applied to being important was often I was already reading a book so I'd finish the book I was reading before starting the required one. If the discussion 'sucked', I had no interest in picking it up at all.
I'm sure there's more but force and discussion were the two main things that always deterred me from reading in school.
I can't remember anything particularly traumatic about having to read books for school. Except for Lord of the Flies, and that's only because all the teachers had some sort of giant hard-on for it so I ended up having to read it like... three times and watch the stupid movies in both English and Social Studies.
As for the others, some of them I liked, some I didn't, and that's pretty much the same experience I've had reading books for fun.
I find that it seems a lot of the books in the canon are there because they're "part of the canon." Bit of tautology there, but the mindset seems to be stuck; certain books are "supposed" to be read.
I enjoyed Shakespeare a lot more when I got a teacher who took him off of the pedestal of "OMG this is great literature!!1!" I think a lot of books in school could use that. I think required reading is a good thing, but we need to update both what is being read and how we're teaching it. Which probably goes a long way to explaining why Adolescent Literature is the best course I've taken in a long time.
I don't think that the reading of it is the main issue, at least for me; I was put off some books we studied because of just how long we spent analysis every other word for "hidden meanings" and what-not, so we could regurgitate it at the end of High School in an exam hall.
I like reading, so long as I can do it at my own pace and enjoy reading it. When I'm reading because I must, and whatever I read cannot be enjoyed but must be stripped of everything so that we can take peeks at the bones beneath, I do not take a liking to it.
I don't doubt that I'd have enjoyed Lord of the Flies or Great Expectations had I read them because I was interested, or was given time to enjoy them and form my own ideas about them, but at school, that was not an option. That was one of the reasons I failed at analysing poetry: the absolute garbage we had to study just got to me, and I shut down whenever we start on it. I disagreed with half of everything we read, but because the questions were fairly linear, I was required to say why I agreed, or how the author implied X using Y, when I actually thought he/she did a pretty lousy job at implying X using Y, if that was even their intention. But I digress.
There was only really one book I know that I'd not have liked regardless, and that was The Kite Runner I studied for A Level English before my breakdown. Every other chapter was rape, with some later ones not only being about rape, but child rape. It might as well have been called The Rape Kite Rape Runner Rapey Rapey Rape Rape.
I may be the slight exception to most people, but I enjoyed what I was assigned. My final year of high school had me study awesome texts like Frankenstein, Bladerunner and Hamlet, and I didn't mind The Justice Game by Geoffrey Robertson, which was nonfiction and ironically a good choice considering I went on to do law at uni. Previously I also did 'To Kill A Mockingbird' and loved that too. I enjoyed pretty much every single Shakespeare play that I was assigned as well. If it wasn't for school, I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed Shakespeare. In my extension classes, I also did Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, William Wordsworth and John Keats, who were all very good as well. What probably helped was in addition to the required readings, I was also asked to look for related texts which gives me the opportunity to read the type of stuff I like reading, whilst comparing and contrasting it with the required readings. This adds a whole layer of interestingness because drawing connections between texts can lead to a whole lot of insights that you otherwise wouldn't get from a single reading of a single text.
That being said, I do agree with past comments that it depends on the person.
I didn't read any of the required reading books, except 1984 and Animal Farm. I really, really love reading, good god I would spend all my time reading, but I didn't have interest in any of the required reading. I think the required reading is mostly counter-productive. I've had a rather large vocabulary most of my life and literally read the dictionary a lot. But I acquired this love of reading through choosing books myself.
I think it really depends on the person and the piece being read. I know there are some books that I'm glad I was made to read in school. We read To Kill A Mockingbird in school and it is now one of my favorites.
I wonder if it's a similar problem to the rest of public education (at least in America)... teachers either feel barely competent enough to follow a rote curriculum rather than take the lead in its design, or feel constrained by ridiculous standardized tests, or both. It happens in math education a lot, and definitely leads a lot of students to hate math. I wouldn't be too surprised to learn there's a certain "cycle of abuse" in assigned literature either: "We're reading these books because that's what I read in school..."
I mean seriously, what's the point of Tess of the D'Urbervilles?
There should be a much wider range of reading in K-12. Especially in sci-fi/fantasy, and not only because those genres hold a special place in my heart Science fiction, in particular, reflects important changes in postwar American culture.
I wonder also if using audiobooks (in addition to the text) would help, too. I mean, if typical high-school level reading is about seven to nine hours worth of audio, right? Split up into nightly assignments that's only 1-2 hours of listening/reading per night. Not too bad, if you can choose the method.
Well, it is a good way to sell millions of books that would otherwise never sell a copy and using tax dollars to boot It gave us Stepphenwolf, both the book and the band. Required reading can't be all bad....
I don't know. Aside from Robert Cormier's "I am the Cheese," and Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" I can't recall any piece of required reading that I've returned to read, or an author that I've been turned onto by required reading and have followed ever since. Those have all been in the realm of books my teachers despised and considered not worth reading.
At the same time, I am glad someone forced me to read outside my comfort zone. There's a lot to be learned from Guy de Maupassant and Franz Kafka and Amy Tan and Toni Morrison and Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" is an excellent novel. Of course, I will never read it again since I have been assigned to read it four different times and am still - even decades later - kind of tired of thinking about it.
High end literature courses are also a terrible thing to give to anyone interested in being a published author. James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon and TS Elliot - these guys are interesting in the classroom because they provide texts that can be puzzled over endlessly. Write like any one of them and the publishing world will think you're a lunatic.
At the same time, we live in a world which is more than happy to cater to our every need and let people live in a cocoon of mind-numbing sameness. The other day, at the dog park, I found myself ease-dropping on a conversation a couple of college students were having and wondering if they knew just how amazingly dumb they sounded. They did not sound mean, nor ignorant but intellectually pathetic - grasping for words that should already be well entrenched in their vocabularies. I also had to wonder if I sounded like that when I was young (or if I still do in certain company). Who knows. If we're lucky they were just stoned, if not then darker days still lie ahead because one thing both Aldous Huxley and Whitney Houston can agree upon is a belief that the children are the future (okay, that was a brain fart but I'm tired and can't thing of any way to end this so there )
YTcyberpunkFeatured By OwnerDec 15, 2012Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I think kids should read books in school, and be familiarized with "the classics." What I object to is how they choose which books kids read in school. Mainly, the fact that it felt like I read the same. Damn. Book. in high school for four years strait: American Classic, a lonely protagonist, selfless hero, made depressed by sinning characters around him, commits suicide/dies a Jesus-like-sacrifice-death at the end, everyone is depressed.
How are kids supposed to learn to love reading if we only show them one genre of literature? I only got to read sci-fi through a sci-fi course (that wasn't even part of the mainstream school I attended, it was part of an art charter school I went to in the afternoon), and one book ("Brave New World") in a Modern American Lit. class. I got a nice dose of fantasy in British Lit. class. Those readings, I didn't mind. But I hate how so many mainstream English courses force kids to read nothing but depressing "classics" set in the real world, and turn their noses up at anything sci-fi, fantasy, horror or comedy. Basically, the only time I got to read something interesting in high school is when it was a special lit class, like British Lit or Sci-Fi Lit.
I think it kinda depends on how you're studying the story. I hated To Kill A Mockingbird when we were studying it in class, but that's only because we were going into so much detail about the significance of certain words and themes. i re-read it on my own before we had the exam on it, and I actually liked it because my teacher wasn't nagging me the whole time. Likewise, I just finished reading Lord of the Flies for class, and I thought it was pretty good. I don't want my teacher to ruin it for me.
I have always loved reading. And always hated reading by assignment. Usually this was because the books we were assigned were things I wouldn't give a second glance at a library or bookstore. I still don't know what benefit or enjoyment I was meant to derive from A House on Mango Street, A Day no Pigs Would Die, Sarah Plain and Tall, or Lyddie. Granted, much of my resentment of Lyddie was because the other reading group was assigned A Castle in the Attic which was about 6 million times more intriguing to me. The only book I remember reading for school and really enjoying was Shoeless Joe. Later in high school we were allowed to pick our reading material from a list of approved titles, but I did not enjoy those selections either. Hated 1984 and don't even remember what For Whom the Bell Tolls was about.
So... I blame teachers requiring us to read stuff we are utterly, absolutely, and in all ways NOT interested in.
Honestly, I am a huge reader. Always have been since young childhood. Timed Writing was my major issue with schools. But i have never been bothered by required reading. I find that it actually gets people to read some what. Most people I know would never read of their own volition. Now, what schools should do is have Chosen Book Reports, where the student chooses a book of their own, within or above their classes reading level. That way, people choose a book they find interesting, and realize that reading is just as great as anything else!
I think the idea isn't bad, but in my opinion, teachers have the worst taste! I didn't find The Grapes of Wrath self-indulgent and slow to start. They cram Twain's weakest books down our throats instead of trying out his most wildly creative, even transgressive, short stories instead. They tend to ignore science fiction and fantasy, as though no one in genre writing could possibly be good. That said, I actually liked Moby Dick! Not for the reasons they covered, though. And my teacher, supposedly an expert on it, insisted that my interpretation of it as a Taoist fable, was original. Ha! Turns out I was late to that party by at least half a century!
As someone who loves reading, I frickin' hated it. Ruined a lot of good books for me by ripping them to shreds. Not to mention that dragging a book out that long drove me crazy - I'd read it all within a few days and then be bored while we read it in class and read other books hidden inside that book and then get told off for not knowing where we were. *cough*
As someone who knows damn well how little the rest of the world reads, I love it. More required reading, dammit, and pick some books that will actually interest people and make them want to read more, not stuff that will bore them. That defeats the purpose. (Which of course, in my mind, is to make people read more. This is the desired outcome of most things as far as I'm concerned; people reading and educating and thinking for themselves.)
it's hit or miss. the kids who had parents/guardians who helped them grow into reading might like reading over the kids who were raised on video games/beating the dog/throwing rocks at cars. but you never know.
students to resent literature that they were forced to digest and analyze according to the almighty syllabus? well, as far as i'm concerned, if a student grows into an adult who still resents literature and reading, they can just stay at a 10th-grade emotional maturity level. also, i hear Walmart is hiring.
I think the problem is the amount of time we have to keep talking about and analysing the book. We would usually do one book for an entire term. That's a long time to be discussing and going over and over the same book.
In year 9, we did Looking For Alibrandi (Aussie contemporary YA from the nineties) and everyone was sick of it after an entire term on it. But in Year 12, we did One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but it was for a shorter time and we may have been studying something else at the same time, so we didn't get sick of it, plus our teacher was really good and didn't shove things down our throats, and made sure we all understood the book and let us discuss our opinions.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerDec 13, 2012Student General Artist
Oh my gosh, that sounds awful.
My senior year in high school we tried to get through about 12 books (or plays or whatever), so we spent about three weeks on each one, which seemed like a good amount of time. A week to read and digest it, and then two weeks to analyze and maybe create a response.
I actually missed the days/concept of middle school when you had the freedom to pick your own book out of the library and do an analysis on that, provided that it was of certain length and not a picturebook/I-Spy book, etc.
I just finished my second English class in college-- "Introduction to Fiction" and I was terribly resentful of it. All of the works were historical (1800s/early 1900s), feminist, gothic fiction, and most of the readings were a bore to get through, let alone discuss. On the other hand, it's kind of ironic, I actually enjoyed the nonfiction readings about analysis on how to write fiction, and how fiction worked.
And, of course, sometimes I lucked out and got a good read now and then. But I think school puts too much praise on the same classic readings: (Edgar Allan Poe, Frankenstein, Moby Dick etc.) and don't have enough variety to help engage people's interest.
The people I've spoken to who didn't like what was read as part of the school curriculum usually wouldn't have liked it in any case, and merely resented the fact that they were forced to read something they don't consider to their taste.
Personally, I've enjoyed and learnt a lot from the books we had to read at school. They weren't my style either, for the most. Guy de Maupassant was too jaded and vicious, Alfred Daudet was usually too rambling, and Charles Dickens's characters made me want to slap somebody. That said, reading them for school meant we analysed the books, and therefore had ample opportunity to decide what exactly it was about the books that we didn't like. We could also cynically bring out the writer's weaknesses when analysing the books. I loved that. There's nothing like picking out the blind obsessions of the writer whose works you hate.
So all in all, for myself, reading at school gave me a good appreciation of stuff I would never have normally read or liked, and made me try new things. If I disliked something, at least it gave me insight into why I disliked them, so it made me much the wiser, really.
There will never be a novel that pleases everybody, so making a whole class study a book is bound to force some people to read what they don't like.
They didn't really force us to read any specific books back when I was in school(mind you, this is the Finnish school system, not USA). The only one I can remember that everyone had to read was Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz([link]), which I actually enjoyed reading.
We had to do book reports from time to time, but those were the sort where the whole class went to the library together and everyone lent out a book they wanted. They didn't really check what we took out either. One time I got The Fog([link]) by James Herbert and the teacher wasn't exactly thrilled with the excerpt I chose to read in front of the class
All in all I think the system got people reading since they got to choose stuff that interested them.
It's cool to hate on school. I remember sitting in discussions with classmates where people were going "ugh I hate To Kill a Mockingbird it's so lame" and I was thinking "uh... I quite like it" but somehow in my teenage desire to fit in would answer "me too!"
Having moved on to study illustration at university, which involved a lot of comprehension of text for obv reasons, I found myself revising things I read in High School and thought I hated but turns out I didn't. Things like the play Macbeth, which at the time I was like "grrr hate this" but now I'm like "damn I love this play."
I think the way to make kids interested is to pick interesting books. Unfortunately reading something like Charles Dickens you spend so long explaining what the words themselves mean you've lost many teens already. I remember reading some Micheal Morpurgo in class and the whole class loved it even with all the analysis. So yes some kids will always hate reading and be ruined by boring teachers or novels they just didn't gel with, but perhaps if people worried less about trying to use literature with difficult language (to begin with) and just taught the ideas of analysis and comprehension through books a teenager might actually WANT to read, and THEN moved on to more difficult language pieces such as Dickens or similarly older novelists when teenagers are older and perhaps more ready for it.
I also think part of it is mental maturity. I listened to the teachers about the meaning in Macbeth, and TKM etc but I didn't really understand it. (Same in Art class talking about the meaning of paintings.) Because at the time, I wrote and drew without a care in the world to meaning of symbols or such (as did many of my friends) and I felt that Teachers were making this shit up for no reason. I thought because my work had no pre emptive meaning that no author could use symbols. I have since learned differently and now I think more about what my work means and realise of course some of the things we analyse in books was put there on purpose by authors. And things like TKM I'm from the UK and we don't have the same racial history as the US so I didn't understand the book as much as I do now because I didn't know the history.
It's not til I was maybe 19 or 20 and older and knew a lot more that when I reread TKM and my brain went "oooohhh". Such a difference a few years makes.
So yes while you're just in English class reading a novel, and esp if its set somewhere else in the world or back in history, if you don't understand or don't know that history at all the analysis makes very little sense because you're missing some vital information.
I think the issue isn't so much the forced reading material as the lame discussions. If you have a good class/are extremely vocal (okay, yes, this is all from experience), you have a good time arguing about it and tearing the book a new one. When you get a teacher who doesn't allow people to say they hated the book, and then dig into why...bleh.
That said, I think spending a whole month on one book for one essay is ridiculous. Picking apart four lines of text for 80 minutes was fun with a class of twelve in university. With a class of 35 in high school, it's just a clusterfuck.
But you'd still need to teach students how to write a paper or give them the tools to analyze literature. Without that, I can't imagine the papers being any better than an Amazon reviewer where the person is barely able to articulate what worked or didn't.
Well, I think short stories and novels are so different they should be handled in separate segments of the class. I really don't understand why full novels can't be covered in high school lit classes, though. It's either a matter of selecting better/different material or finding a better way of engaging students with the material.
As I said in my response, though, there are also social/cultural factors at play making it so kids can't or won't get involved. It's not just the curriculum, teachers, or material.
Indeed. Also the book would need to have some kind of depth or quality, and the poor teacher needs to be familiar with every book they might review. So it would need to be off a list of some kind IMHO.
Yes, exactly. I do recall that some teachers would do open book report projects, where you could pick a book of your choice but were given certain constraints as far as the writing goes. Something like that, combined with the assigned reading, seems like a pretty good approach to me.
I actually wrote an epic blog post about this a couple years ago. I still have angry feelings about MOBY DICK and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. I thrived as a reader in middle school, survived my first year and a half of high school, and then gave up on being a reader altogether.
Given, when I was in high school, YA didn't really exist. And it certainly wasn't part of the curriculum. And they were barely teaching poetry. There is so much English teachers WANT to show their students that they don't have time for, or that they can't fit into the curriculum because of some bureaucrat saying so, etc. etc.
I do wonder, though, if I'd been given more freedom as a reader, if I'd have been able to hold onto my love of reading for all those years that I just couldn't pick up a book.
My experience was good and bad, depending on the teacher. K-6 was great; a few of those teachers always had a shelf of books we could comb through on our own time, and I found some of my all-time favorites that way. It wasn't until high school that I learned the joys of strict assigned reading. One of those teachers was cool enough to give us a choice between two books for any given lesson, which is why I love The Crucible and have never read The Scarlet Letter.
But then there was the semester of A Separate Peace, when I learned to hate.
I've read all of those. I liked The Crucible, hated A Separate Peace (but a whole semester? dear God...), ditto The Scarlet Letter. I hated Letter even more because Hawthorne's short stories are actually quite good, yet The Scarlet [expletive] Letter is the only thing of his that's ever taught, it seems. Gah!
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerDec 13, 2012Student General Artist
It's strange that you mention that. My brother barely read when he was younger; he's intelligent, but he has a really low tolerance for boredom, and if a book can't catch him in 20 pages or so, he tosses it, even if it's for class. But he's very musically inclined, and when his band director started teaching a philosophy class, he took it. In the class, literature, music, and theater were taught together through an ethics/philosophy lens. Suddenly, he's devouring Socrates, Kant, Kafka, and Crime and Punishment is his favorite novel.
I guess since he was given the option to explore reading in terms of something he's interested in (ethics, philosophy, and music) instead of something that bored him (character archtypes, plot structure, etc) it became a lot more interesting.
But, I appreciate that most schools are struggling financially and don't have the resources to offer those types of classes. It kind of sucks; you can't expect a single English teacher to offer something for every type of student, but some students just aren't going to be engaged by certain schools of thought.
I attempted to read Dracula in college and couldn't quite finish it. I did my best though, since I loved the class I read it for. I ended up having to skim a lot. I think I want to go back and read again.
I know what you mean. It took me a very, very long time to actually complete the book (from my own experience it was worth the perserverance
Incidentally, I watched Dracula with Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder a number of years ago, and the story conveyed was one of tragic love, and you actually felt sorry for Dracula who only wanted to be reunited with his lost love, and the other half of his soul.