I Don’t Like Fiction — I Teach High School English
Well, maybe that isn’t EXACTLY true, but it is true that I really prefer non-fiction, and I don’t even think that reading the “iconic” books that make up much of a high school English curriculum is necessary or even a good use of students’ time.
Of course, this attitude puts me at odds with some colleagues. One such colleague, who is equal parts philisophical, brilliant, instigatory, and curmudgeonly, has even on occasion asked me “Why the hell did you become an English teacher if you don’t like books?”
I sometimes ask myself the same question, and I think the anwer is rooted in my personal view of pedagogy.
I don’t, and never will, think knowing the tale of Odyssesus serves any function for modern students. Nor do I think the incessant whining of a love sick rich boy hell bent on stealing an old flame away from her boorish husband enriches students’ lives even a little. I care about as much for Meursault as he himself cared for his dead mommy- and most of us know what that got him.
I think we need to make students critical readers of non-fiction articles and aid them in their ability to discern credible from biased sources and to create their own arguments.
Scholarly essays about literature are, at their core, just arguments about an author’s intent or purpose. I don’t see why English teachers cannot teach the same skills without dragging students through antiquated novels to which they have no connection and little interest ( for the most part).
I think we should create elective classes called “Classics” where students who are so inclined can enjoy abstruse literature while refocusing required English classes to inculcate more real world skills.
For example, let’s say I assigned kids a task to prove whether Ronaldo or Messi is a better player. The kids would have to crunch numbers, draw comparisons between common opponents, evaluate the level of the teammates around each man etc and THEN present an argument. We could teach the same skills but relate those skills to something that interests students way more readily.
I happen to like sports, so I went with the soccer idea, but a crafty teacher could present all kinds of topics- what temperature is the best for cooking steak? Is dance a sport? Is a hotdog a sandwich etc — or, better yet, allow students to come up withtheir own which have to be approved by the teacher.
English teachers (except for me, of course) have a tendency to get personally insulted if someone dislikes the books they love. I get that, but it is akin to getting mad because someone prefers Pitbull to Led Zeppelin or corn on the cob to brussel sprouts. Much of what people like regarding literature is a matter of personal taste and should not in an of itself be a measure of intellect or a lack OF intellect.
I don’t like much of it, but I am a good teacher.
I think even my bookish curmudgeonly friend would grudgingly concede that.