1. Mr. Write

    Mr. Write New Member

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    Why do high schools and colleges assign such boring books?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Mr. Write, Nov 14, 2017 at 7:55 AM.

    When I was in high school and college, I thought the fiction books that were assigned reading were boring and completely oblivious to what students would find interesting. My kids (ages 18 and 22) say the same thing. Why not choose books that speak to this age group? I think students will get way more out out of classes where they actually enjoy the books as opposed to being beaten over the head and put to sleep by ancient books that put them to sleep.

    The one exception to my complaint was one professor I had when I was a senior in college. My professor, Joseph Blotner, was the official biographer of William Faulkner. At the end of the semester of a class he taught on great American novelists, I went up to him to thank him and say I had enjoyed the class. He said, "I am teaching a class I think you might enjoy next semester." I asked him what the class was going to be. He responded, "The spy novel."

    I took the class and it was one of the best classes I ever took. We read books by John le Carre, Len Deighton, etc. I got so much out of the class. I wish more teachers would get off autopilot and instead of using the same old, tired curriculum, they should show some creativity and find ways to teach books their students will be inspired by and motivated to read.

    End of rant.
     
  2. Lemie

    Lemie Active Member

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    The only book we had to read throughout "high school" (Gymnasiet age 16-19) was Animal Farm for English A. To be honest I think that was the only book we had to read for English AT ALL for these three years.

    For Swedish we got to chose all our books ourselves. We read excerpts from the "boring" classics, but otherwise we could read whatever we wanted. I think we read about one or two books per class (Swedish A-C).

    I can't speak for UNI since I studied advertisement, graphic design and visual communication.

    In "high school" we had to read for the sake of reading. If you have to read anything specific at UNI, I'm guessing you probably study literature or language or such, so it'd make sense for them to pick or at least slim down the options. Why it has to be boring? That you'll have to ask the professors. You're probably knocking their favorite book!
     
  3. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    I think it's because the point is to actually get kids learning rather than fangirling. I know that sounds a bit... Grown up. But I think there's some truth to that. There's something to be learned from literary analysis of Hunger Games and whatever is the latest teen phenomenon but not in quite the same way. And frankly there's a lot of weird messages that you pull out of popular, somewhat disposable literature. Twilight's model of 'love' is fucked to the point that honestly teens shouldn't be reading it ("If you love someone, hurt yourself to get their attention!"). And, well, books that aren't written with a fairly hard point to them don't lend themselves to spending a whole term reading. Yes, kids would be more into the material but then they'd also likely never encounter any serious literature in their lives.

    I'm not going to say that reading Lord Of The Flies (which I read for GCSE) is really a good time, but putting it in it's context as an anti-adventure speaking to violent nature of humanity including our propensity for worshiping false idols is kinda, well... That's something that kids really should learn. And, frankly, Animal Farm should be required reading regardless because actually learning the lessons of it would immeasurably increase the quality of anyone's education. Not because anyone can relate to Snowball or Napoleon but because it's an allegorical novel about human nature.

    Once upon a time it was simply a part of education to read the Bello Gallico and Plato and Aristotle. That was never fun. But they were important things to learn. To learn who Julius Caesar was in his own words and why we still remember him, to learn the men who sparked essentially the twin the arms of philosophy that are still fighting today. And not just to read but to learn the message. This was simply assumed. And yes, it was beaten into kids which maybe wasn't a great idea, but the principles of teaching that stuff and saying "This is important and you need to know it and so help me good you will learn it" is not a bad thing. Teaching should be about bringing kids up to it's level, not stooping in a desperate attempt to teach anything at all. To put it another way; in those 1950s classrooms, do you think any teacher would have given any amount of shrift to reading the adventure books that were so popular? They'd have told you it'd be like teaching out of the pages of the Hotspur. And I suspect they'd have told you "They aren't supposed to relate to it, they are supposed to learn from it"
     
  4. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    It's not a teacher's job to entertain her students. And by the way, some of us enjoyed reading, Lord of the Flies.

    If I was forced to read stupid spy novels by John le Carre, I'd poke an eye out!
     
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  5. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Active Member

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    I'm not sure about elsewhere, but in Ontario a good portion of the curriculum is set out by the school board organizing all of the schools within a region. The teachers have some individual play as to how they present the information, but from what I gathered there's certain allowed books and subjects and certain banned books and subjects. This is to meet government requirements and keep the parents of kids sent to these schools from constantly flipping shit about literally every little thing. When I was in school there were objections from parents about Sex Ed, Evolution, and Catcher in the Rye (because there was a prostitute in the novel), as well as a teacher using The Lord of The Rings as a teaching tool. Like not even teaching The Lord of The Rings, just making references to it because the first movie just came out because Sorcery and the Devil and whatnot. So I imagine if they find some books they can assign that don't infuriate some parents, and those books still teach the lessons required, then they're probably going to stick with those books rather than listen to one teacher about how the kids are bored.
     
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  6. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    I think most teachers will say the kids are bored at some point. Because even the best teacher with the best kids eventually has to teach more dry material. Even at uni where the young people have ostensibly chosen subjects they like people get bored. Even doing my masters; for every "Is Noam Chomsky a conspiracy theorist; discuss" there was "Statistical analysis of content analysis" that no-one could make engaging.
     
  7. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Active Member

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    Similar. How do you choose books that appeal to the whole class?
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Indeed.

    It's actually a bit patronizing to say that the latest teen sensation really appeals to everyone; that suddenly the whole class will jump to life to argue about team Jacob or team Edward. Even if you assume that the whole class is into the idea of reading as entertainment (which can't be taken for granted, even way back when it wasn't a given) everyone has different tastes. For everyone you win over by bringing a book into the classroom you'll lose someone else who will utterly loathe that you're asking them read this pap.

    And, honestly, are there even popular books amongst teenage boys these days? Serious question. What actually is the popular book for boys right now? Boys are the ones that we need to engage more; they are really falling behind in this stuff. So what do we give to them to better engage them anyway?

    Personally I preferred my old English teachers idea of choosing a book - "I picked something I like because I have to teach three sets of you buggers and I'm damned if I'm spending the whole term talking about something I hate". And credit to the man; he really knew the material, he really cared about the material and it showed in how he taught. Might it not be better to let teachers choose whatever book they think they can teach best instead of whatever book they think will make the kids like them?
     
  9. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    THIS.

    You're going to have to sit an exam on this at the end of term.

    That exam is going to be set by some school board that's larger than your neighbourhood, town or city, let alone the guy who teaches YOUR English class.

    In order to mark it fairly, they've got to have a level playing field; Twilight - Analyse and discuss would be way different from Hamlet - Analyse and discuss. So they standardise on one book, or a small selection.
     
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  10. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Active Member

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    When I'm trying to get my nephews or thier friends to read, I usually give them books like A Clockwork Orange, or Fight Club, or pretty much anything by Douglas Adams. You know, the kid of stuff that would cause a Christian parent to have an embolism if they found out their kids were reading at school. Other than that, though, the only other books I see guys reading at things like Tom Clancy's Ops Center books, a few Halo adaptations, and with the nerdier ones, some Sword and Sorcery. I know The Zombie Survival Guide was pretty popular a few years ago, as well as World War Z. I enjoyed both, but again they don't really have any overwhelming literary merit and both would probably cause more problems for schools than they solved if teachers started using them.
     
  11. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah that's pretty much what I would give to a boy too; books that are kinda age inappropriate but that I think are awesome and they could learn something from. And that's kinda... Complicated. Because there are kinda 'boy' books out there, like the Warhammer 40k books (some of which are legitimately rather good) but for every boy who's into that there's another boy who's all about sports who will literally vomit blood before they start talking about space marines. There kinda aren't teen sensations for boys and that kinda makes it moot to suggest bringing 'popular' books into the classroom.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Exactly. When did some books get boring? A good story is still a good story and there are some old stories that still have plenty to say and/or are a good read.

    I would like to add there are a lot of class choices in the literature department at a lot of universities. I think there are a lot of students who want to study the classics. But I also think some universities are starting to introduce genre works or courses, but it is to supplement a basic understanding of literature. Just like any assigned reading is far from the only thing a student of any age has to read. I try to look for the value in anything I read whether it's old or new. I'm just not someone who would devalue work because it's been assigned to students for the past twenty year. I would be far more excited to read that than a spy novel. But I don't see why someone can't do both if they wanted, no?
     
  13. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Active Member

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    I took English Lit, so there were a lot of Genre classes open to me, but I had to wait until around my third year to get to prerequisites to take them. My first two years were basically crammed full of the origins of the English language and making sure I had a strong grounding in the classics. Turns out that was a good thing, because it turns out a lot of the modern, popular books out there, rely pretty heavily on the classics and the intertextuality of literature up until the point they were written. So, a lot of the times, you can't really understand a good modern novel to the full extent it can be understood without having studied the Bible, or Shakespeare and the themes they set up in western literature for current writers to build upon.
     
  14. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    That's certainly true at the university level, but at the high school level the kids almost never get a choice. The teacher sometimes gets some of a choice, or at least gets to pick a book off a short list for their class and I think that's more what we're talking about. Now personally I think you're right and that even dusty old books have plenty to teach people generally and the next generation in particular but I can understand why modern kids can struggle with books that clearly aren't speaking to an experience they understand.

    I think if everyone got to read Lord Of The Flies specifically (or any one of a fairly big list of good old books with a serious lesson) then I wouldn't have a problem with restrictive choices; it's ok if they don't like it as long as they learn it. But when they get shoe horned into doing bad books no-one cares about then that's a problem.

    I remember when I was at school we all did a Shakespeare as well as a book. My set did Henry V, then MacBeth the next year; lucky us, good plays with a lot of cool stuff going on in them that's interesting to pull apart. Right off the top of my head I can give you a half dozen interesting things to write essays about in either. But one of the lower sets was stuck doing Twelfth Night and... Urgh man that is not a lot of fun to analyse. It's bad enough it's a comedy and analysis is kinda the death of comedy. It's not a work with the same kind of gravitas is it? You can, and people do, write to infinity about Hamlet and King Lear and Richard III and Romeo and Juliet and MacBeth because there's a lot to work with there. I'm down for Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar, no problems. But if you get stuck doing Perecles or something then you are kinda screwed.
     
  15. Mr. Write

    Mr. Write New Member

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    It sounds like my high school had us do a lot more reading than the norm. For example, I had to read The Great Gatsby in three different classes in high school which I thought showed a stunning lack of coordination.
     
  16. Mr. Write

    Mr. Write New Member

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    I disagree that it's not a teacher's job to entertain students. I think a great teacher finds a way to entertain and teach something worthwhile. It doesn't have to be either/or. When my older daughter was in high school she had a teacher who taught first year Spanish. He taught them how to conjugate verbs by rapping every day in class. The kids loved going to his class.
     
  17. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Oh F. Scott Fitzgerald; when will you just fuck off?
     
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  18. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Active Member

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    I didn't mind The Great Gatsby, but I also didn't read it in high school. I didn't actually read it until I was helping my sisters kid write a paper on it, so it never really got the academic soul suck with me, not to mention I was a few years older and understood some of the symbolism a bit better than I would have had I been 16 or so. But, then again, one of the reasons they force feed you this stuff in school is to try to teach you to understand things like symbolism and other helpful real life skills.
     
  19. Mr. Write

    Mr. Write New Member

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    First of all, I wasn't complaining that we had read The Great Gatsby. I was complaining that I had to read it in three separate classes.

    Second, nice respectful response.
     
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  20. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Active Member

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    I honestly feel the same way about Margaret Atwood, just because I was forced to read her books in school.
     
  21. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I had to read too much Fitzgerald in the course of my studies and I just don't get what the fuss is about.

    I'm sorry if you took that as a jab at you, it's not meant to be, it's just my immediate reaction to thinking the man's name that I can't quite stop.
     
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  22. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Active Member

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    Worth a try, though perhaps at the risk of teachers indulging themselves at student expense. I'm reminded here of my English teacher who was in his element with Macbeth. He'd stand at the front of the class reciting the book held at arm's length - as though he was on stage at the Royal Albert Hall - in a voice approximately one part Brian Blessed to three parts' Kenneth Williams. Nightmare.
     
  23. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Contributor Contributor

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    True enough, but I think having a teacher who cared about the material when the kids don't is a step forward from neither the kids or teachers caring.
     
  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I think that part of the reason is that there are certain literary references that people think that kids need to know. So by teaching (1) reading and (2) reading those "classics", the school is teaching two things. (They're also usually forcing the students to write about those classics, thus teaching three things.)

    However, I think that the younger the kid is, the less it makes sense to be reading classics written for adults. High school students may need to read The Scarlet Letter. But there was no good reason for junior-high-age me to be reading edited versions of Poe, versions that were rewritten to be at grade level vocabulary, instead of reading something actually written for the age group.
     
  25. pyroglyphian

    pyroglyphian Active Member

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    If a teacher is unable to extend his enthusiasm to the landmark works of the subject he teaches then I might begin to question his pedagogical worth.
     

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