My friend and colleague, John Foley, has struck a nerve with the traditionalists and stubborn gatekeepers of high society by daring to challenge our traditional high school English curriculum. Heck, even Joanne Jacobs posted about it,
which is a sign that you've written something worthy. Anytime a post of mine appears on her site, I light a victory cigar a la Red Auerbach.
First, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
was ninth on my list of favorite novels--a year ago.
Somehow, To Kill a Mockingbird
wasn't on my radar that day, but it should have been.
But Foley's challenge of our current English curriculums has validity, even if the stuffy elitists don't want to entertain the notion that these "classics" can't be replaced.
The first question we must ask is this: What is the purpose of an English class? Almost four years ago, John Foley asked us the same question, which prompted a blog post here at The Daily Grind.
Ultimately, we must answer this question if we are to satisfactorily address the challeneges before us.
We must acknowledge that today's students have far more to distract them than in 1992 when I started high school. Our students today have instant access to a phenomenal amount of information with only a few keystrokes. With so many distractions, we teachers must adapt to our target audience. We must capture their attention.
But it all goes back to the first question. What is the purpose of an English class? If you believe that our primary purpose is to expose our students to the wealth of literary greatness that Twain and Shakespeare offer, then yes, we must continue to teach our students these classics, if only to expose them to the culture of literary greatness.
Yet, if you answer that first question differently, by putting a priority on skill development over content, then it will not matter to you whether a student reads Twain or the appallingly simple Bluford Series
. Maybe the skill development approach is symbolized through Boo Radley. Boo just wanted to be kind to people; he held no malice. On the other hand, maybe the traditionalists are the territorial bluejays, the Bob Ewells of the modern English classroom.
In the final analysis, we must consider the climate of our educational system. One that continues to emphasize skill. Yet, we must also look beyond the test to our higher education systems which still expect a classic understanding of core knowledge. Ultimately, I would prefer to engage students and focus on skills. If that means dropping the classics in favor of modern texts, then we must adapt.