Tuesday, May 17, 2011

English Class - Business or Pleasure

Recent comments from a reader, as well as curricular discussions with colleagues, have led me to recently ponder the English classroom and the phrase "life long lovers of reading."

That phrase has always bothered me, especially when it is used in reference to the job of an English teacher and the role of the English classroom. There is a clear line between reading for pleasure and the study of literature, and no English class/curriculum should be designed with the goal of "creating life-long lovers of reading." We can, and should, teach them to "appreciate literature," but not to love it. No math teacher is tasked with making students "love" the "joy" of a "wonderful algorithm." No social studies teachers is expected to pursue the goal of "loving" the timeline of the Civil War. No science teacher is expecting "love" for the beauty of a graph or chemical reaction. We don't expect for schools to create life long lovers of jazz music or basketball or writing or texting or nursing or fixing pipes or installing software or filing or calculating or .... or anything.

English classes are about developing literacy and critical thinking skills - not developing hobbies. Simply because there is an "artistic quality" to the content, does not mean that "loving" the art is the purpose of the class. Literary analysis is not about discovering the joy of a wonderful book, though that can certainly happen -it's about understanding important societal themes and appreciating effective use of language. And no author ever wrote a novel or poem with the intention of it being assigned to students to read and deconstruct. It just so happens that great literature is the perfect content for students to practice the higher level thinking skills of rhetorical analysis. And the themes of great literature also allows schools to be purveyors of culture and sources of character instructions as the stories allow students to understand literature as a "record of the human experience."

But loving reading? You can't teach anyone to like something. And you shouldn't try.


Anonymous said...

You can't make someone love something, but you can sure make someone hate something.

If students hate reading, it doesn't matter if they understand how English professors analyze books.

I'm not trying to disparage your profession, but you should be aware that not everyone agrees that the goal should be teaching students the skills they need to score 4's and 5's on the AP test (yes, I got a 4 or a 5 on the AP test).

mmazenko said...

I'm one of the people who doesn't think the goal should be teaching students skills for the AP test. I've written extensively for a reform of the K-16 system, and I have heavily endorsed a more practical literacy for the 70% who need career and technical education. My classes, whether AP or regular level which I also request to teach, focus on literacy skills. And if they hate reading, I simply want them to be able to do it when they need to - and I use a broad set of materials to engage them long enough to develop those skills.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Hello. I thought when I went to high school there was actually a separate class called "reading appreciation." I don't know if they do that any more or if that were just a cover for lower-level English. But at least title-wise, classes like that have been out there. :)

Laura Ringer said...

The job of an English teacher isn't to instill love for reading, but it wouldn't hurt if it happened. I'm not saying that you should make your goal to teach your students to embrace literature, but if you see a student with a particular interest in reading you should definitely nurture that interest.

business logo design said...

im agree with Abellia and student must learn many things from that article

Elisabeth said...

Appreciation and love are two different things. In the very least, students should learn to appreciate and respect literature even if they disagree with it or hate it. You can still hate classics while appreciating them and acknowledging they are works of great history. I also think that if you take an AP class, you probably took it to take the AP test and do well and students who don't get that preparation get angry! I have lots of children tell me their teachers don't give them AP instruction for the test for 4's and 5's as they were previously promised. Give the students what they want and live up to their expectations! Any thoughts about vocabulary incorporation in the English classroom? Because that's slipping too.

mmazenko said...

Vocabulary instruction is dubious, though well-read people generally have more developed vocabulary ... and that extends down to pre-school. Additionally, programs on roots and morphemes are considered most effective.

Agreed on participation. Though giving students what they want doesn't always meet expectations.

English Teacher confessions said...

I enjoyed your entry titled “English Class—Business or Pleasure” and commented on it in my blog at http://englishteacherconfessions.wordpress.com.