Reading and Teenagers
I was working out and thinking about books and kids. The book selection for teens is a travesty. We bring them up with life affirming , positive, wonder filled books and then we give them angst, failure, survival of the fittest, disillusionment, famine, imprisonment and prostitution. Teaching LORD OF THE FLIES, all the suggested themes focus on James, the evil, nutso choir boy, as opposed to Ralph who will not succumb to violence. Why isn't that book about the power of humanity as opposed to the destruction of innocence? And this innocence thing. Kids aren't innocent. They are hopeful and imaginative and rebellious and honest but most kids know all kinds of things. If they go to church they know about sex, sin, death, hell, redemption, evil, temptation. Disney movies are filled with allusions to popular culture, betrayal, family trauma etc. The point is, enough with the innocence! I remember going to see the movie THIRTEEN and realizing how often the world of teenagers is portrayed as nihilistic, sordid, sad and perverse and then turn around and freak out because they act nihilistic, and do sordid and perverse things.
What teachers helped me the most in high school? Honestly, I had so many bad teachers in eighth and ninth grade, pedophile, crazy-Miss Baker the very fat gym teacher with the 6 inch nails we were always trying to break by kicking that weird huge ball at her. I had teachers that told the class strange, personal stuff or went into rages over weirdly unimportant things.
So, back to books. Dickens is amazing as is Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald and Cather. Then I think Shakespeare and Baldwin, Ralph Ellison & maybe Zadie Smith. After that, get modern with newer writers-short stories & Sherman Alexie, Gish Jen. Good stuff, funny stuff, real stuff. get rid of the MARCH OF NANKING and NIGHT. Let kids find out about unforgivable terrible things in college. Hitting them with that stuff in high school is a form of sadism You're trapped in your parent's house and someone's telling you all this horrendous history. What are you supposed to do to make the world less awful? Go collect trash? Build a house? Read aloud and play with the texts. Relish the words and the things that are happening in the stories. Give creative assignments that crash into textual problems and help students feel what the writers felt. Don't always assign depressing things. Let students teach books to the class. Create a list of possibilities and have choice. Break out of standard annotating.
Don't ruin the book/story/poem/play.