WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2021
Examples seem to abound: We graduated from high school in 1965.
We were living in suburban San Francisco, in a world which was much more culturally progressive than the more cloistered world of suburban Boston, from which our family had escaped in the summer of 1960.
Still, when we read several of Hemingway's short stories as part of a high school literature class, one story had literally been cut out of all copies of the book our class was issued.
Our teacher made a big deal of noting this fact. Up in Michigan was no longer there to offend our inquiring eyes.
Why had Up in Michigan been removed from the books we were issued? You can read Up in Michigan here, and it's a short short story.
Should the story have been excised—physically removed—from the books we were issued? We don't have a huge opinion on that. We're more interested in a topic which appeared in the comments to Kevin Drum's post about Beloved.
The topic in question is boredom, or perhaps "relatability."
Several commenters mentioned books they were assigned in high school—books they couldn't relate to. The topic started with this early comment:
COMMENT: I am not a fan of the way adult books are assigned to teenagers. I understand that most people no longer read books as adults, so it is high school or never. But I don't think we do kids or the novels themselves any favors when we assign books that kids just aren't mature enough or have enough life experience to read and appreciate.
The commenter cited an example of a book her husband was too young to appreciate or understand when he was 17. (Their Eyes Were Watching God.) She herself read (and admired) the book when she was 40. He was assigned it too young.
Other commenters extended the theme:
COMMENT: We read Our Town. If I thought I had to read that again, I think I'd hang myself.
Followed up with Spoon River Anthology, Sherwood Anderson and Bartleby the Scrivener. It's a miracle anyone lived through it.
COMMENT: We read the Scarlet Letter in 10th grade. It's a wonder anyone in my class ever read anything ever again. I believe the lesson we were expected to learn was: reading sucks! It could not possibly have been anything else.
COMMENT: We had to read Heart of Darkness. My entire AP class hated it, and we all bought the Cliff Notes because the only parts we didn't hate we flat out couldn't make heads or tails of.
We had a similar experience. Our class received good instruction in the skills of "literary analysis." Top grades in AP tests were common within our set.
That said, we began to feel alienated from the whole reading experience. We didn't have any idea why we were reading most of the books we were assigned, and we felt we were being trained in a cynical type of performance.
Why were we reading Moby Dick, or The Scarlet Letter? We had no real idea. Should we have been reading those books? We're not sure how to answer.
One commenter described an English teacher who maybe didn't have the perfect bedside manner. Should parents be involved in the public school education of their children? Here's the commenter's tale:
COMMENT: This reminds me of one of my favorite English teachers back in high school, who frequently commented on parents visiting him to complain about the assigned reading material. He told us his standard response was to let them know that his job was dealing with their children's reading problems, not theirs.
I don't recall any of the assigned books from back in those days, but "Huckleberry Finn" was probably one of them. Now banned everywhere, apparently, for using verboten terms.
We're fairly sure that Huckleberry Finn isn't banned everywhere. That said, when black kids, sometimes in middle school grades, feel humiliated and embarrassed by discussion of the book's text in their public school classrooms, that's an important concern which ought to be treated with respect.
Regarding that teacher's bedside manner, way to insult the parents! Our guess would be this—high school kids tend to lionize the chesty teacher who is willing to talk back to their parents, or who at least is willing to say that he does. The teacher who taught us all those skills was perhaps a bit like that.
Should high school kids be forced to read books to which they can't relate? We have no idea. "I believe the lesson we were expected to learn was reading sucks!," that one commenter said. "It could not possibly have been anything else."
Out there in the Golden State, we were well trained in certain techniques, but was it just a game? It seemed to us that it pretty much was. On the bright side, it was a way to get into college. But what would we do once we got there?
We'd also make a recommendation. Parents should be listened to and treated with respect. Controversially, we think parents should be treated that way even if they're one of The Others.
Breaking! Every time we call them those names, another Trump voter is born!