This week's topic from YA Highway:
In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?
First, I would like to say that I believe reading curriculums need to be approached with much more care. More care and thoughtful deliberation.
In Dante's Inferno, the pilgrim Dante wants to approach a pair of souls in Hell--particularly, the illicit lovers Paolo and Francesca. Vergil, Dante's guide, counsels him that it would be most effective (in paraphrase) to speak to the lovers "in the language of their desire." Similarly, Vergil is the best person to guide Dante through Hell becuase Dante loves the poet's "ornate words." Dante loves the Aeneid, and as a result, he follows Vergil to salvation more willingly than he would follow scripture.
THIS is the approach schools should take when compiling reading curriculum.
Imagine what would happen if, before jumping into the classics, we required teens to read stories written in their own language, stories about desires they experience every day, stories about people they can relate to. Imagine what would happen if we spoke to them in the language of their desire.
I know what would happen.
Which, I'm sorry to say, does not happen in a whole lot of high schools. More often, as I have quite recently witnessed, the majority of students develop a stubborn distate for reading and the blessed minority picks up a blockbuster novel by accident and discovers, lo and behold, that they actually love books.
In my opinion, middle and high school reading curriculums should have one goal: to teach kids to love to read.
And I cannot see why we are trying to accomplish this by asking students to twist themselves into all sorts of contortions so they can appreciate a work of art written centuries or millenia ago, or a work that is so overwhelmingly depressing and/or violent that it bears no resemblance to the actuality of their lives. (The majority of high school reading curriculum, as I have experienced it and discussed it with peers, contains mostly classics--which I have NO problem with, as I'm sure you can tell from my comparison to Dante--and ultra-depressing literature--this, I do not understand.)
The way to teach young people to appreciate Homer, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and the others is not to shove the classics down their throats and hope it digests.
Dante wouldn't have followed an angel on the path to redemption. He's simply not in love with the way angels talk. He's in love with the way Vergil talks. He's in love with Vergil's poetry. He respects, admires, and understands Vergil.
So how do we teach students to love reading, and thereby teach them to love the classics?
WE SEND THEM VERGIL.
Now, if you've stayed with me all this time, you can probably guess what I mean by "Vergil." What I mean by books that will speak to high school students in the language of their own desire.
Young adult fiction.
And I don't mean Huckleberry Finn. I mean the latest, greatest, most fun, fast-paced, romantic, exciting, keep-you-up-at-night YA novels that are being written for young adults right now. We should introduce teens to the world of reading with these books, and we should sprinkle in these books once we've progressed to teaching classics.
Then maybe, maybe, high school would be less of a place where only the dorks carry around books to read. A place where you don't get made fun of for loving Greek tragedy. A place where people don't snicker when you faithfully do your reading for English class.
If we first taught our teens to love to read, I can't help but believe it would be different.