Dumbing Down the Curriculum

Realizing that most students don't enjoy reading the classics, English teachers have begun allowing their students to choose their own works from a virtually unlimited list.  What are the students choosing?

James Patterson‘s adrenaline-fueled “Maximum Ride” books, plenty of young-adult chick-lit novels and even the “Captain Underpants” series of comic-book-style novels.

Niiiice.  This reminds me of the piano parents who quit in frustration after a few weeks or months.  "They just don't like to practice."  It's hard to keep my cool in such situations.  "Good thing they do like brushing their teeth, eating their vegetables and going to church," I want to retort.  "Or else they'd just quit that stuff, too."

I am not opposed to students taking an active interest in their own education.  This year my American Literature class will write a term paper, and I plan to let them choose their own author and works.  I want them to write about something that interests them.  But come ON, people!  To skip "To Kill a Mockingbird" in favor of "Twilight" is unforgivable.  At a certain point, we need to require them to learn the classics.  And it's our job to make the classics interesting and applicable.  If my kids walk out the door hating Hawthorne, it's sure not Hawthorne's fault.

My sister and I were reminiscing the other day about the first time we read "The Grapes of Wrath."  It was American Literature, the same class I'm teaching now.  In the final scene, when the bereaved mother breastfeeds an old man to keep him alive, we both experienced a feeling of exhilaration: humanity had triumphed through the most brutal of circumstances, and even the deepest grief of having lost a child could be channeled into saving the life of another person, one deemed unnecessary by society in the cruelest of times.

Our classmates, on the other hand, reacted unilaterally with gleeful disgust.  They didn't get it, as kids often don't.  That's okay.  What matters most is what happens next.  Was the teacher able to help them transcend their immaturity and the current societal norm of demonizing the breast as a sexual symbol?  Or did he gloss over the controversy in favor of returning the classroom to order?

I don't remember (I'm a little older than she is.)  Her teacher didn't do anything to stem the tide of revulsion, and in fact may have encouraged it.  She sat in class thinking, "Either something is really wrong with everyone else in this room, or there is something really wrong with me."

No student should feel like that.  Come on, teachers.  Do your job.