—-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Last week I wrote about art, so I decided to connect it with my other love...literature. As a teacher I was determined to give each of my students a love of reading. That is not an easy task in high school, after habits have been ingrained, but my love of the written word has gotten me through so many tough times that I knew I had to pass it on to my students.
First of all I had to make them understand that reading was personal, and they didn’t have to like the same books I liked or the ones their family chose. They had to find the words that spoke to them. Those words could have been written by Shakespeare, Poe or Charles Schultz for all I cared, as long as those words spoke to the reader. It could have been in fiction, non-fiction, poetry or graphic novel format. The only rule was that it had to hit you on an emotional level and make you feel something.
Unfortunately, the very nature of our curriculum in high school English fed into the students’ fears of reading. We had to insist the students told us “what the author meant in this piece, “ or “ what would be a good title for this story.” The problem is that there is not one good title or just one interpretation of what the author means.
Let’s take one of my favorite poems, for example...
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
As a young student I was sure Frost was happy with his choice. After all, it felt right...it has made all the difference. More recently I reread it for the millionth time and saw the words “I shall be telling this with a sigh,” and it hit me. A sigh. He regretted his choice...but wait...it could have been a sigh of contentment. Maybe I was right from the beginning. Since Robert Frost is long gone, it is difficult to really know what was in his mind when he wrote those words, but the curriculum insisted that my students pick the “correct” answer. My solution was to tell them what the teacher’s edition told me was the correct answer to put down on an exam but encourage them to think outside the box everywhere other than the test. Their creative answers during discussions were the true critical thinking moments that a teacher looks for, and no answer was ever wrong during discussion time.
The love of literature does more than entertain us. It strengthens our minds and lightens our souls. It takes us on adventures we could never experience otherwise, and it helps us to plan for those adventures that are actually within our reach. With all of the electronic competition that today’s youth is being introduced to, a simple book seems hardly worth the effort to them. They don’t realize just how much fun their imaginations can be after being spoon-fed their entertainment since their high chair days. It is time they realize the joy a book can bring.
The best way to teach your child to love literature is by example. Spend an hour reading with them instead of watching television or playing video cases. Have a family book club where you all read the same book and discuss it during family dinners. Extend their bed-times by a half hour if they spend the time reading. Buy them books, magazines, graphic novels...whatever it takes for them to wake up to the joy of reading.
Speaking of joy in reading, my review this week was a fun one. Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca was interesting and entertaining, giving us expanded information on people, places and things that we never knew we were lacking. Enjoy.
As always a complete review of this book follows my blog.