Thursday, January 10, 2008

Teach Them What They Know

Sigh. Another essay from a disheartened English teacher, ready to give up on the "classics" because the kids simply won't read them. You can't really fault him for saying things like this:
I believe I am better serving the present and future needs of my students by offering more accessible readings that will hopefully ignite a lifelong passion for reading. After all, isn’t it better to have read and learned, than never to have read at all?

He's absolutely right. But the end-result is to take a select group of children and on their behalf betray everything we've historically believed about education--that it is not only the honing of skills but the transmission of history, culture, and values. They don't come out of a home or a culture of reading for pleasure? They find it difficult to read about people, places, and times different from their own? Well, that's okay. Don't tax the poor dears. Just let them read what they already know, and what they already like--stories about themselves. After all, the whole point of reading literature is to stare deeply into a mirror, isn't it? It's not to transport yourself to other places--to learn how other people live, love, fight, dream. They're not solipsistic enough--let's push them even deeper into their little boxes of self. Let the white kids in the suburbs have a broadening education. They're prepped for it. The black kids in the city schools can just keep reading about...black kids in cities. Then, maybe, if they enjoy themselves, they can go to college and read something else. Except when they get to college, they'll be forced to take remedial English classes to make up for the crappy education they got in high school--remedial English classes on which they'll have to spend what little college money they may have, and for which they will receive no college credit, of course.

If a high school English teacher can get away with saying in the New York Times that his job is to get 18-year olds to love reading, and that they can get the rest (i.e., that whole high school education thing) later, or somewhere else, then can't we agree that the system, as a system, is a disaster? After all, this is not the teacher's fault--he's clearly doing what he can with what he's been given. There's only so much you can do with 45 minutes of class time.

If equity means anything (and right now, it doesn't), it has to mean that we, as school people, expect certain things of ALL students and are then able to provide them with whatever they need, year after year, to meet those expectations...so that when they go out into the world, they can pursue their dreams as far as their talents and drive will take them. The world may knock them around, or knock them down, or simply give up on them. But schools simply can't.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Speak it Brothah!
And Amen.

MY NYC kids loved Scarlet Letter and Gatsby ├╝ber alles...so I don't really know what the problem is...