In conversing with Sarah T. about literature and education, I realized I strongly oppose mandatory reading for high school students.
I went through the public education system and endured summers of reading lists and English classes full of literature. Of the vast multitude of books populating the curriculum, here’s what I remember:
I enjoyed reading Old Man and the Sea and Sons and Lovers.
I struggled painfully through Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, Of Mice and Men, most Shakespeare, and The Invisible Man (spoiler: not about a superhero who can turn invisible – I know right?!? WHAT THE HECK.)
There’s nothing else. I might recall a storyline here or there if you gave me hints, but otherwise it’s all gone. Furthermore, many of the books I was suppose to read, I didn’t read. There was a fair fraction of us who skimmed and skipped our way through the bulk of books. I think my class read Beloved in high school too. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it.
With this in mind, it’s hard for me to see value in mandatory reading. Sarah T. pointed out that becoming educated on culturally significant storylines of quintessential works is only half of the purpose. The other half is learning to unearth and appreciate the symbolism and themes that lie between the lines. And while I may have called shenanigans on these themes in high school because they seemed convoluted and contrived, I now appreciate that many written works are carefully crafted to share something deeper than 300 pages of Times New Roman.
Right now I’m reading some poetry. Specifically, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge. This is a perfect example of a work that I would have no interest in if it was forced upon me, but now that I’ve picked it up on my own volition, I find it deeply powerful. Is the best way to educate to try and push value upon someone who may not be ready to embrace it? The clever child might make this argument regarding those last stems of lukewarm broccoli sitting on his dinner plate, but I submit to you that these are different situations.
It could very well be that it just wasn’t for me and that most lives are enriched by what I saw as cultural water-boarding. Even if the mikedidonato.com sampling might have a disproportionate amount of engineers who, like me, chose a college based entirely on the fact that they didn’t have to take English courses, I’m curious to hear your opinions on mandatory reading in high school.
Literature really is an art. I didn’t see it as such until I started walking down the literary path alone.