Have you heard of Cracked.com? If you haven’t (where have you been???), cracked.com is a time-waster par excellence with humourous videos and articles on a variety of topics. My favourite part of the site, however, are its lists (of varying degrees of accuracy).
Yesterday, a friend shared a link to the list “4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading” on Facebook.
It’s all true. All of it.
By the time I reached the twelfth grade, my high school drama teacher elevated the phrase “Oh, but you aren’t readers….” almost to catchphrase status (but not quite, since it really doesn’t make a good catchphrase). Very few (if any) of my high school friends identified as readers (the exception was my one friend in elementary school who was reading Shakespeare in third grade, yes, she’s awesome, I know). Now, there are a bunch of things that could contribute to a lack of enthusiasm for reading: home environment (did anyone read to them as a child?), socio-economic status (books cost money and you need time to read them), maybe reading just isn’t something they enjoy.
But, if you ask me, I think high school kills a person’s interest in reading quicker than septicemic plague.
Here is a brief list of books I remember reading for high school English class:
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Picture of Dorian Gray
and of course, Shakespeare, plays we discussed:
Twelfth Night (other classes did A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Romeo and Juliet
What do all these things have in common?
Why yes, they are all a part of the Western Literary Canon, but more importantly, they are all boring as shit.
Actually, no, wait, I actually liked Fifth Business, and most of Dorian Gray, the rest? Excuse me while I fall asleep. Oh wait, To Kill a Mockingbird was fun because it was the only time anyone could say words like “nigger” (I was reading a passage from the book) without getting in trouble for it.
To be fair, though, I was stuck reading 1984 because my English teacher at the time (who would no doubt draw and quarter me if he ever read this) decided it would be a great idea to let the people who are at the end of the alphabet choose which books to read first (my last name starts with H) so instead of reading The Left Hand of Darkness, I’m stuck with Orwell’s 336 page assertion that “communism is bad, mm’kay” in addition to his obvious sexual repression. As much as I am sympathetic to the plight of sex workers, he really comes across as a man who could have used a liaison with a lady of the night (or two).
Oh, and Dorian Gray was okay once Dorian stopped going on about how he wasn’t attracted to Sybil and all the murdering happened (which was like, what, in the last five pages?). At the time, I didn’t know much about Oscar Wilde (certainly not about his sodomy charges), but could he have been any less subtle with Basil and Dorian? Oh, and he seemed to have this thing against women, but to be fair, pretty much everyone had a thing against women in those days, even other women, especially other women.
Fortunately, English class wasn’t always about force-feeding us books mostly written by Dead White Men, sometimes we were allowed to choose our own books. I was allowed to read St. Patrick’s Gargoyle for an assignment about narrative/dramatic structure. Do you want to know why I aced that assignment?
I actually enjoyed the book I was reading.
For those of you who haven’t read it. The titular gargoyle teams up with a Catholic Knight of Malta to battle demons (complete with bantering back and forth between the two–since the gargoyle guards a Protestant church, in Ireland), no, it’s not “literary” but it perfectly illustrated the point the assignment was trying to make without being a snoozefest.
Also, would you like to teach people about irony? Just tell them that Shakespeare, a guy so famous for writing plays that we call him the Bard, plagiarized other playwrights.
The plays by the guy that every kid in North America is forced to study would have completely, utterly FAILED a modern English class on account of committing the Cardinal Sin of plagiarism. If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is.
Anyways, I think the article does make some excellent points (on top of being pretty funny) especially about how to bridge the gap between “popular reading” and “literature”. I’m not saying we should suddenly make everyone read the House of Night series (oh gods no, please no) in the classroom because it’s something teenage girls like to read, but I’d say there’s definitely some wiggle room between “stuffy works (mostly) by dead white guys” and “brain meltingly vacuous popular stuff”. Instead of complaining that “kids these days don’t read”, maybe we should really start looking at the stuff we’re getting them to read and see how we can make things more enjoyable for everyone.