Thursday, March 22, 2012

Contemporary and Classics

Right now, I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my 10th grade English classes.  I will soon begin Of Mice and Men with my 11th grade English classes, and Holes with my Reading class.  Of these three novels, on Holes by Louis Sachar is considered to be young adult reading, but each year we perpetuate the cycle of classic literature onto today's high school students.  I find myself this year asking why?

It's not that I don't believe in the validity and power of the aforementioned novels, I do.  Wholeheartedly.  To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best novels ever written, and while many students do become attached to the novel, rarely do they do so until Tom dies - even throughout the court case, they keep waiting for the Disney ending to come along and save the day.  It isn't coming.

I guess what I'm pondering here is the question - if they won't read the classics, what will they read that has literary merit?  There is a slew of Young Adult novels out there, but which ones are best to teach?  I'm writing one myself, and I'm not sure it'll ever see the light of publication, but if it does - can I teach it?  Does it merit an in-depth study.  It has language, and sex, and violence, but it's real.  I believe young people want to read something real and relevant to them.  Just this year, we as teachers, requested to teach The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  We were denied for two main reasons:

  1. They claimed the reading level was too low.  I assure you, based on what I am working with, it was NOT too low.
  2. The content was not appropriate.  In the novel their is a masturbation moment of a teenage boy - really, is that far fetched?  I think not.
The content is age-appropriate, the reading level allows for understanding, and the historical work we could have done with Native American tribes would have been fantastic.  I believe it was the mention of masturbation that upset the powers that be more than the reading level.   Yet, it's okay to read about murder, mayhem, drinking, suicide, drug use, incest, sex, racism, rape, and retardation.  These are just a few of the topics I teach in the "approved" selections for 10th and 11th grade reading.  But masturbation, that is over the line.

There is a debate in our county over selecting books kids would read anyway, saying that "If they would read it anyway, we shouldn't teach it."  But, I disagree.

Teaching a book is very different from simply reading for pleasure.  And some books that are great stories require an in-depth look at the historical basis for students to really appreciate the literature.

So, with all of that said - any recommendations from the masses out there about more modern contemporary novels that merit a study as much as the classics? 

Thoughts and opinions welcomed.

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