Monday, January 10, 2011

The Classics

Perhaps, high school English teacher is not the job for me. During a lecture today on Charles Dickens--introducing A Tale of Two Cities--I commented that I did not like Great Expectations. One of my students remarked, "For an English teacher, you don't seem to like many of the classics."

This is no surprise to me, but maybe my students shouldn't verbalize this fact.

In my defense there are classics I do enjoy. I love A Tale of Two Cities. I've learned to recognize the value of The Scarlet Letter, Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare is a blast to teach. But for every fine point in these stories there are many literary avenues to critique. As a teacher, I think the critique is a major part of the fun.

Therefore, when I express my opinion of a book--oh, wait? I'm not supposed to unduly influence my students regarding my personal opinions. There's the problem! I shouldn't have an opinion in the first place. A classic is a classic. On the other hand, I believe it is healthy that my students know and understand that they are not crazy if they do not enjoy a particular "classic."

The key is learning to identify quality literature. Figuring out what is worth reading and why.

Few books, if any, demonstrate all the elements of a great book. If one author truly and completely met all the standards in one book it would be perfection. Ah, but that honor has already been taken, and no one on this Earth can compare.

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