By Warren Benson
This post is written in response to SHOULD LITERATURE BE TAUGHT IN ENGLISH CLASS? By Susie Rodarme
I am a High School Language Arts teacher for 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. I teach at an alternative school for kids whose backgrounds prevent them from having a desire to analyze Literature, in any depth. They see it as a waste of their time. Frankly, I was once as they are now.
In High School, I hated “English” as the kids call it. I could not reason with the teacher. I had to do what she said no matter what— even if it meant digesting disgusting, boring, dense classic literature. As a coping mechanism, I would make fun of the teacher. I would revile the subjects that she tried to teach me. But the one phrase that I still remember my teacher saying was think of the text, then think of yourself, then think of other texts, then think of the world. She wouldn’t say it like that. She’d say “text to self, text to text, and text to world.” At that point I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but since she repeated it so often, I remember it still, 12 years later. Yes, I am a young teacher at the beginning of my career. My High School teacher ended her career the year after I took her class. She knew stuff.
What did she know? Literature is important. Literature records the arguments, situations, rhetoric, and history of the ages. It documents the human experience. Its delivery method is through Language. I would consider it part of the foundation of the English language. Its value lies in its ability to show how someone captured the hearts of a large group of people, of readers. How could I have understood that from my teacher while she was engrossed in the magnitude of classic literature? I think she may have forgotten that school is about students and teachers, not one or the other. But where does that leave me as a student?
Was I wrong to make fun of her? Absolutely. I should have given her the respect that I gave all of my other teachers. I was a “straight A except her class” student. I did not know how to ask intelligent questions, yet I could learn and love every other subject except hers. I failed to see how the material applied to me, “text to self”. Now I am a teacher, of Language Arts, what happened?
When I was in college, I felt inspiration. I had a thirst for understanding. I thirsted for peace. Well what creates peace the most? Aside from divine intervention, the thought was placed in my head, “Why don’t you learn about the thing that you hate most?” It made sense. The things that I hated the most, up to that point, I ceased to hate after I had learned about them. So, I majored in English, with an emphasis in Technical Writing. I learned how to speak. I learned how to listen.
Communication. That is at the heart of of what is Language Arts. Classic literature records the communication of time and shows whether it has been effective or not. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20. Should teachers teach literature in the classroom? Absolutely. However, what is literature?
I believe that literature is anything that presents a message in written form. Connotatively, literature is known as any work of writing that is old, is popular, and demonstrates proficient command of syntax. Literature is valuable writing.
If literature is valuable writing, shouldn’t other works of writing be taught of equal or greater value? Yes. Practical writings are of greater value than, if not equal to, classic literature. I would consider practical writings as anything that will most likely be used by the reader: news stories, law, tax forms, how-to guides, history, and informational text on several subjects. I don’t think that a text is practical if administrators have to force or encourage teachers to teach it.
Whether something is practical or not is a subjective judgement that ought to be kept between parents teachers and students. When administration requires teachers to use a certain method or text in the name of “research” I just shake my head. At the same time, texts shouldn’t be required just because they have been used for decades. How can any person know that something isn’t more effective if they don’t try it?
To answer the initial question “Should literature be used in the classroom?” I hope I’ve answered it. But, in short, I say that more relevant material can and should be used before dense and archaic classic Literature.