Monday, January 12, 2009

Oh, the Change theme...

First, let me thank all of you who read The Daily Grind. I hope that this year will offer you thought provoking, humorous, and honest reflections from this English teacher.
This morning I sauntered over to John Foley's website because I hadn't stopped by in a few weeks. Mr. Foley and I taught together during my Seattle days, and I wish he were still a physical colleague instead of a virtual one. He was an underrated teacher at the school, not gaining the same press as some of our more notorious counterparts. His list of published books appears on this page of his website. I envy his publications.
Recently, he wrote as a guest columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer advocating for the removal of long-suffering texts like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from modern English curriculums. Some of the commentor believed it be satire, which wouldn't surprise me, and others called for Foley's firing.
Whether satire or honesty, the idea isn't void of merit. When it comes to the High School English Class Canon, there isn't any divine guidance. However, the following are the basic and standard texts throughout high school:
9th--Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men
10th--Julius Caesar, To Kill a Mockingbird
11th--The Great Gatsby
12th--Macbeth, Hamlet, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales

Foley raises the simple question, why? Why do we insist that students read these texts as part of our classroom curriculum? Why can't such classics be part of the additional reading that our college bound students often must choose from? Why shouldn't we find more modern, accessible texts with similar themes for our students today?
And let's take it a step farther: do our Math, History, and Science classes need updating as well?


At 3:43 PM , Blogger rk said...

Good qustions. Thought provoking.



At 6:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the same questions while I taught English. I happen to dig most of the works listed (esp. Macbeth), but we as teachers do have a higher call. We need to be careful not to simply do what has always been done (though the institutionalization of state-based, standardized tests makes it hard for public school teachers to break away). We also need to be sure that the values we espouse are not promulgated in a way that is dogmatic - though I think it's OK if we talk about - and especially model - our values.

In my 2nd year of teaching, I had a senior in my class ask me if I had ever read Wright's _Native Son_. Sadly, I had not, but I took up the challenge. Later that year, I ordered 45 copies, and all of my junior/senior students read it (thankfully, it was a private school where I had the freedom to do so). The best part? Some of my students, those who were not good readers or who had an allergic reaction to books, initially looked at the 300+ page work and were a bit incredulous. I assigned about 25 pages at a time, as I recall. On the third day, many of my "non readers" said they had NEVER enjoyed a book as much as it, and had read the first part (100 pages) entirely. They consumed the rest with as much interest. I continued to teach Native Son until I left for grad school - and it always got the same reaction from my kids.

We need to be listening to our students, as they may well have insights into good literature that can be challenging and important.

At 6:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

By Foley's criteria, Native Son would be banned for use of "the N-word."

At 6:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It all needs a huge overhaul. We have been doing the same thing for ages, stuck in our secluded classrooms, while the World has changed outside our doors... but we teach the same stuff we always taught, and we teach it the same way. And we wonder why we're failing our graduates?

"'Cuz that's the way we've always done it" has never been a good reason to do anything. Why is it so often used in education?

At 3:02 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

So true, Sra.


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