Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to "Teach" Literature

While it's true, as I've noted, there is no sacred book - that is no book that is essential and indispensable to any child's education - I wonder if there are sacred elements to teaching a piece of classic literature. For example, is it a reasonable expectation that a teacher using an allegorical novel to actually teach the allegory and the allusions?

I tend to believe that if a class is studying Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and the teacher does not focus on the halo around Hester Prynne's head, then that class is not truly studying the novel. They may be reading it, but they are not appreciating it as literature. The same goes for the Garden of Eden imagery in Lord of the Flies or A Separate Peace. Certainly, they can be read as popular fiction. Character, set, and plot can be discussed, just as young adult novels are discussed in middle school. However, I don't feel positive about teachers failing to instruct students in the finer points of the works.

Of course, none of these writers published their novels with the intention of it being deconstructed by students. And, in a novel like Lord of the Flies, it's probably worth discussing whether it's important to teach the Christian allegory and the Freudian allegory and the World War II political allegory. Yet, the authors used the allusions and archetypes for a reason. There is a message in each of these novels that is linked to those techniques.

So, I certainly hope that a considerable degree of academia and scholarship guides the teaching of literature in the average high school English class. But I don't have a lot of hope at times.

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