Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why I can't wait for my kids to graduate

I read an interesting post over at Shannon Hale's blog where she mentions someone trashing books based on a one sentence summary. While I agree with her assessment of the situation (in that one can't distinguish between trash and art based on a summary), it got me thinking about the summaries she used from some often studied works in high school curriculum. (Hint: my little rant might make a little more sense if you read her summaries of some books teens are required to read.)

Perhaps you're thinking I'm making a big deal out of nothing (hey, it wouldn't be the first time), but I really do take issue with some of the stuff that is taught in schools. Obviously, I'm not for trashing a book based on a plot summary, but just because it's part of the curriculum doesn't mean it's appropriate for all (or even the majority of ) students. Considering the amount of great literature out there, I think school boards could do a better job at giving a wider variety of material for teachers to choose from so that kids who aren't ready for mature themes or language could have a chance to succeed in and (gasp!) enjoy the class.

The easiest thing for me to pick out, are books with a lot of language and/or crude content. I know that not everyone finds crude language offensive, but my kids are very sensitive to it, and to have to read books with a lot of it is completely frustrating. Case in point, my oldest is taking an online English course (grade 10), and Of Mice and Men is required reading. I'm using this one because I actually find it to be on the tame end as far as subject matter is concerned. To be honest, the story raises excellent questions about how society treats the elderly and the mentally/physically handicapped, BUT there are a lot of swear words, derogatory terms, and bad grammar (okay, so that part is merely annoying*, but still extremely distracting...).

Really, it was all my daughter could do to get through the novel, and it left her with a bad taste that overshadowed anything else she may have learned. The biggest thing she got from the experience came from me telling her that there would likely be a lot worse she'll face before graduating from high school. Guess who hates Language Arts just a little more than when she started? (Besides me, I mean...)

So what's the answer? Well, I'm not talking about a completely sanitized curriculum, but is there no way to generate serious discussion without reading books littered with swears and who-knows-what? It's been my experience that English teachers are extremely well-read and fairly in-tune with students to recognize which ones could appreciate more "intense" books with more adult themes/language, so why couldn't there be a list of "If you like this book we studied, you may also enjoy these other books". I mean, that's only one idea, but it wouldn't be so hard to do, right?

Anywho, that's just my two cents on the matter, and it's what gets me excited for them to get out of high school. Beyond that, they're on their own (snip, snip go the apron strings...). What do you think? Is anyone else bothered by what kids are required to study these days?

*Also annoying: hearing about Steinbeck's descriptive passages ad nauseum. I'll admit it: I'm sometimes a skimmer, because otherwise... Le. Snooze.


MT said...

I've always wondered: Who makes the choice on what literature is curriculum worthy? Whoever it is, their taste is a lot different than mine. ;)

Tracy said...

Michelle - I'm so glad I'm not the only one who wonders these things!

Enbrethiliel said...


Hmmmmm. You bring up some points I don't usually consider. "Harsh language" has never been a problem for me in reading (although I'll cringe when I hear too many such bombs in a song, in a movie, or worst of all, in real life); and I managed to get through both A Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting unscathed. So I don't tend to think that other people might be turned off by them.

Incidentally, when I was in high school, an aunt gave Of Mice and Men to read, saying she had learned a lot from it and hoped that I would, too. And I think I did. =)

But I do know what you mean about books with "Rated R" content. I have two brothers who are still in school, and I've been cringing at all the adult content in favourite movies of mine that I had hoped we could watch together. (So far, only the original Karate Kid has proven to be both completely clean and technically great.) I didn't really notice the content before, when I was their age, but now I'm just embarrassed, turned off, and uninspired to lead a discussion about what we've just seen.