What We Read in Schools

Here is a true story I once read. I think it’s online somewhere, though I may be wrong. t was told by a teacher.

So this teacher, an English teacher, was assigning some Dickens rag to his class. Something like “Hard times” or “Great Expectations”. Who knows? Dickens is brilliant at best and utterly unreadable at worst. Those two books in particular I never enjoyed, but they’re assigned often and people love them, so hey, I may be wrong.

That’s beside the point. One student objected to reading Dickens (not unreasonable – he is read in schools ALL THE DAMN TIME) and asked why they couldn’t read “The Lord of the Rings” (EXTREMELY reasonable; fantasy and science fiction get the shaft in schools, badly). The teacher’s response?

They accused the student of not caring about the poor.

The student’s response?

He (or she, I don’t recall) APOLOGIZED to the teacher later in the class! What the Hell? And the teacher told this story as an example of a “learning moment” for the student.

So, let’s get this straight: A teacher assigned an author who is read all the time, about a trite theme nobody disagrees with (“treating the poor badly is wrong!”).

A student responds by suggesting that instead of reading Dickens yet again they should read one of the great works of Western literature, which touches on such themes as honor, love, glory, mercy, justice, and bravery, with wonderfully drawn characters and poetic prose.

The teacher’s response to this is that the student only wants to read this book because she doesn’t care about poor people.

Instead of pointing out that this doesn’t even remotely follow, the student goes up to the teacher and apologizes for deviating from the established groupthink and wanting to read something substantial and meaningful as opposed to trite social justice themes. As it turns out, the student subconsciously didn’t care about the poor. They just didn’t know it.

Bullshit.

As a teacher I’m going to do my best to sneak “Till We have Faces” in my curriculum. Maybe I can trick the school into it because of the connections to Greek mythology.

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2 Responses to What We Read in Schools

  1. Ilíon says:

    The teacher’s response to this is that the student only wants to read this book because she doesn’t care about poor people.

    Instead of pointing out that this doesn’t even remotely follow …

    Not only does that not follow, but neither does the converse: reading Dickens, even reading nothing but Dickens, doesn’t mean that one does “care about poor people”.

    Further, what is this “care”? All the millions of people reading Dickens and “car[ing] about poor people” never did me a lick of good when I was poor. As far as I can see, all “car[ing] about poor people” really amounts to is using The State to harm me now that I’m not poor.

  2. Ilíon says:

    As a teacher I’m going to do my best to sneak “Till We have Faces” in my curriculum.

    Now, *that* would be a good book to have on the reading list.

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