No offense, but why do we read this stuff?
You know what's coming next when someone begins, "No offense, but...." So when my student began talking to me using that phrase, I knew it would be about Othello. We've just started reading the play this week, and I had to have the purchase the play on their own to avoid having to teach Julius Caesar.
It is a legitimate question, and one that I have struggled with more this year as I teach many students who don't want to go to college. If the purpose of English class is to create competent readers and competent writers, does it really matter what texts we use? If my students would be more interested in reading non-fiction about the life of Snoop Dog, why not have them read that book?
Let me say that there are really two main skills that I focus on teaching my students when we read fiction: analyzing character and analyzing theme.
In our everyday interactions, we need the skill of analyzing character. We need to pay attention to what others say, do, and have said about them. It helps us to determine how we interact with those people. But that can be taught through memoirs about Snoop Dog.
Additionally, we need to recognize the magnitude of events in our life and analyze their impact on us. Analyzing theme allows us to learn this life skill. But again, we can read for thematic content in the memoir of Snoop Dog.
Okay, it isn't a classic, but who cares? Does every student need to read Othello or All Quiet on the Western Front? Probably not. Which leads to a more complex question. Does our current education system need a complete and dramatic overhaul? This overhaul does not imply that all teachers are worthless, like some critics would want you to believe. Instead, the overhaul would be directed at our approach. Why can't we get away from town by town school districts and instead move towards highly focused institutions much like the collegiate system.
For instance, a high school graduate looking to pursue a broadcasting degree searches out schools like Syracuse University. But the engineering types might choose Northwestern University. Create schools that are focused on interests, and students will respond. Because frankly, I don't blame some of my students for being bored by Shakespeare; they're never going to use its wisdom and grace beyond my classroom.