Storytelling is the power of retelling an experience or a tale in a way that the reader can relive it and imagine it in their own way. All readers read differently. Readers tend to read what they want to read and that can lead to their own thoughts about the author, the characters in the book, the meaning/purpose, and/or the book as a whole. The point is: reading requires imagination and creativity and neither of those things should be restricted or molded a particular way. Required reading in Language Arts classes has cut and shaped my thought bubbles from countless imagination to a square just like everyone else.
At Fairview High School, we have a mile-long list of required reading. Ok ok, that’s a little extreme, but it sure does feel like it’s a mile-long. PIB LA 9: 1984 by George Orwell, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Odyssey by Homer, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. PIB LA 10: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka. AP LA 11: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, The Cheating Culture by David Callahan, Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone, The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Awakening with a Selection of Short Stories by Kate Chopin. AP LA 12: I can’t make a list because I stopped taking advanced levels of Language Arts for the sole purpose of school has made me hate reading.
I understand the Language Arts department has to follow a certain path for the curriculum. But AP LA 11 ended less than a year ago and if someone were to ask me what any of the books were about, I would say something along the lines of: I honestly don’t remember. Something about religion or history or something about fictional characters somewhere, probably, I think? “English teacher desires that his work should make a difference in what and how the boy reads; most teachers have faith that such a difference exists. Surely intellectual honesty should compel us to inquire whether this faith is justified.” (Dolch 186). When I look back at all of the advanced LA classes I have taken, the most I’ve gotten out of an LA class is grammar, writing, and lit. terms, not the books they assigned to us. In high school, when you’re reading a book, that you’re forced to purchase on your own by the way, you have a limited time to read, while annotating thoroughly, then you have a graded discussion and take a test on it. I understood The Crucible as simply: racism, not as accusing those who are “un-American” as being communists. Yellow person? BOOM! Communist. Hey, I can be wrong. I don’t know history as much as Sawyer but I know enough about my Vietnamese culture. My dad fought in the Vietnam war as allies to America and I see the cringing-reaction from some people when I say I am Vietnamese and I was born here. But my class just understood it as communism and never talked about the slight chance that it had a deeper meaning, something beyond the word “communism”. So I rarely bothered to speak in class.
High school literature has restricted what a reader can think. There is a definite answer to what a book means or what the book’s purpose is. I can understand Finding Nemo as a child pushed into growing up, even though he’s not mentally or physically ready to do so. Someone else can understand it as: people suck. We ruin nature and ruin families. But here’s the thing: neither is wrong. We’re all different people. We all read books, see movies or experience things, differently. So for a school to tell me my opinion is wrong and I get a B versus an A because my opinion is different, it’s not fair and it’s not right. It wastes my time, teaches me nothing, and lessens my motivation to do well in school, period.