Saturday, September 14, 2019

Are Students Bored ... or Boring?

I'm probably a bit full of it when I try to turn the tables on my students and their ability, or inability, to appreciate the classic literature I've assigned. The crux of the claim is that a book like 1984 or Pride & Prejudice is neither interesting nor boring -- each just exists as an artistic creation. Their value and quality varies depending on the reader. However, the claim cannot be that they are awful or boring or weak or poorly written. And, if they come across as "boring," it may simply be that the reader who feels that way is the only boring entity in the exchange. Thus, I try to emphasize that my greatest hope as a teacher is that my students come to appreciate the work as a quality work of art and social commentary, even if they don't really like it. And, I hope they won't call it "boring," but simply concede that it's not their preference and, perhaps, they can't fully "appreciate" its brilliance. Because I am certainly not going to use class time to engage with any piece of art I don't believe is brilliant.

So, each year at some point we have this exchange, and each year I grow a bit as well. This year a student wanted to know what work I found "boring" -- because if I didn't like it, there was no way she was going to invest the time. I laughed, but it did make me a bit sad, for I don't want to be that curmudgeonly presence in anyone's education. That said, we had an interesting chat about works from our curriculum they were bored by. When the classic archetype for all modern superheroes, Beowulf , came up, I felt compelled to defend the famous Geat and help them understand why the poem is anything but boring. The gap, I believe, is the ability of people to connect with and grasp the written word as entertainment. If I can bridge that gap, I will truly be educating. And, perhaps one day my students will not only "appreciate" Beowulf in some similar way to Iron Man and Captain America, but they just might be inclined to buy my, yet-to-be-written, scholarly study of allusions and the epic hero, "The Bible, Beowulf, & Buffy: allusion and archetypes in popular culture."

No comments: