Books Read in High School English

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Books Read in High School English

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Jul 19, 2008, 11:42am

One of my friends recently told me about a teacher who had stopped teaching the "classics" in her high school class and was using books like Eragon and Twilight instead. Her focus had shifted from books her students were "forced" to read to books she hoped they would "like" to read.

So I'm just trying to picture high school without The Scarlet Letter, Hamlet, The Grapes of Wrath, Jane Eyre, and The Great Gatsby. It seems insane! Yes, I didn't always enjoy the books we read for school - Heart of Darkness, ugh! - but I think the introduction of a variety of literature was very important, as I would never have been exposed to many of the ideas and history of our culture without it - whereas I'm sure I could find books like Twilight quite easily on my own.

Besides, neither of those books, or Harry Potter are challenging books. Shouldn't one be reading something a little tougher at the high school level?

But, booklovers young enough to still remember high school, what say you?

Jul 19, 2008, 11:57am

I tend to agree with you--many kids already know they like Harry Potter, but they probably won't know they like The Great Gatsby or other classics if they're not made to read them. Plus, reading at least some of the classics is part of being educated!! There was a boy at my high school whose name was Anthony, and he had a big red "A" tattoed on his arm. I remember thinking that if he had read The Scarlet Letter, he wouldn't have done that.

I guess, though, it depends a little on the class. If the teacher has lower-level students who are still struggling with reading even though they are in high school, reading Hamlet or The Scarlet Letter might be so frustrating and incomprehensible that they don't get anything out of it. Then, I can see that teaching books that are closer to their reading level would be advantageous.

Jul 19, 2008, 8:06pm

Someone is teaching Eragon in a classroom??? Egads, that book was so horrific I had to put it down after 30 pages. It's Star Wars dressed up as Lord of the Rings, and packaged in terrible prose. And I had started it wanting to like it. I can't imagine what that teacher could be using it for, unless as an example of how not to write.

I think I agree with those who want classics on high school reading lists, but don't people always complain that having to read something for a class made them hate it? We can't win — either people read these books for a class and hate them, or never read them at all.

Jul 20, 2008, 4:19am

Whatever you do, not all kids will like reading. Certainly not if it's school reading. Kids just don't like schools! Anybody who's ever gone to school will be able to confirm that. As a teacher, you can't change that. You have to accept the fact that you can't turn 100% of your class into readers.

Most of these kids will already have read Harry Potter, and most of these kids will stop reading at the age of 16-18. That's the age most libraries lose their readers. If all they know by that age is Harry Potter, then they're not going to come back. But if they've tasted some serious literature (forced upon them), maybe 5 or 10% will, after a few years, remember something of it and go back to the library.

Teachers should be aiming at the mid/long term future, not the present enjoyment of class.

Jul 21, 2008, 5:14am

I finished high school in 2005, so recent experience here. My teacher read aloud Beowulf and some poems by Wordsworth, Tennyson and Shakespeare. He also told us about Romeo and Juliet and A midsummernight's dream.
About twice or three times a year my teacher told us which book we had to read: for every pupil he chose a book, which he thought the pupil would like. I read A town like Alice, The go-between, Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets, some short stories by Roald Dahl and Wuthering heights.

Jul 21, 2008, 10:24am

Leuntje, just to clarify:
He told you about Romeo and Juliet, and Midsummer Night's Dream, but you guys didn't read the actual plays?

Jul 21, 2008, 12:01pm

Our English teacher thought Weirdstone of Brisingamen was modern, and that was about 10 years ago. We did read Noughts and Crosses which was fab, followed by Across the Barricades which was alright but alot outdated.

I think the classics are great, and you get enthusiasm to read when you start with a few classics.

Jul 21, 2008, 12:16pm

One thing about classic plays--it always bothered me that we had to read them but rarely saw them performed (even on video). Given that they're meant to be watched, I think it would make them much more enjoyable for students if teachers found a way to show the plays in addition to reading them.

Jul 21, 2008, 12:28pm

#8: My teachers always had us watch a video whenever we read Shakespeare. (Living in the sticks and in a poor school district, seeing a live play was pretty much out of the question.) As I recall, we also watched To Kill A Mockingbird, Apocalypse Now (in conjunction with reading Heart of Darkness), and a video adaptation of a Flannery O'Connor short story.

To add my voice to the chorus, I think we ought to be teaching "classic" literature to high schoolers. I think that we should challenge young brains. There were books that I read in high school that I hated, but I don't regret reading them. And there were difficult works of literature that came alive for me when studied with the right teacher.

Jul 21, 2008, 5:05pm

You know, we read some pretty worthless stuff in high school, but I'm glad I read most of it. (I could have done without Lord of the Flies, which I had to read twice.) But still. High school English hipped me to the fact that Dickens kicked ass. You can't fault that.

For summer reading we'd get choices off of a list - before senior year, we had to read The Mayor of Casterbridge, but we also got to choose two other books from a list of about 150. I chose Dharma Bums and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as a big fuck-you to the book list.

But really. You shouldn't be teaching Twilight or Stardust in English class. That - holy cow! - is what that library is for! By teaching those in class, you're sending a message to students that you don't have to bother reading for pleasure because you can read it for homework instead.

Viva la video game?!?

Jul 22, 2008, 4:50pm

Among the titles I read for my honors and AP English classes
To Kill a Mockingbird
Romeo & Juliet
Great Gatsby
Mayor of Casterbridge
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Stranger (English language translation)
A Raisin in the Sun
and others...

Jul 22, 2008, 11:47pm

In my high school years I remember reading for English class:
- Summer of My German Soldier
- To Kill A Mockingbird (I read it in 8th grade, but I know it was taught in a lot of my high school's classes)
- Macbeth
- Hamlet
- Romeo & Juliet
- Wuthering Heights
- Jane Eyre
- Their Eyes Were Watching God
- The Sun Also Rises
- Of Mice and Men
- The Scarlet Letter
- The Awakening
- The Great Gatsby
- Antigone
- Oedipus Rex Actually I may have read this on my own, but we definitely discussed it when we read Antigone
- Things Fall Apart

My school also did something called Lit. Circles, where you would break up into groups of 3-4 students and read a book, and discuss it in the group. Some of the books I did for the lit circles were:
- A Confederacy of Dunces
- Don Quixote
- The Tale of Genji - I don't think I finished this one
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
- The Color Purple

I know there were a lot more in my high school career, but I can't remember now! I know I read Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World and Lord of the Flies but I don't think any of them were for class.

Edited: Jul 22, 2008, 11:48pm

Oops, double post.

Edited: Jul 23, 2008, 12:41am

I had to read The Awakening, too (and many of the others listed). I loved it, and I think it's a book I might not have come across if not for the class. I also liked A Separate Peace, Catcher in the Rye, and Fahrenheit 451.

My senior English teacher let me and a few other students who had already read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights read other Bronte sisters books of our choice, and I really appreciated her flexibility on that. I think I read Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Jul 23, 2008, 6:12am

@valkylee: No, we didn't read the plays. Maybe I should add that I'm from Holland, so English isn't my first language.

Edited: Jul 23, 2008, 6:43am

Well, I definitely think people should keep teaching classic literature in high school English, but I think it might be okay to insert a more accessible book now and again. I just remember that even though I loved to read in high school, at times I hated English classes. I think I was a bit of a late bloomer as far as literature is concerned. Recently I've been going back to some of the authors/books I read and hated in high school English, and am finding I really like them (George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Antigone, Jane Eyre).

Sometimes I wonder if being forced to read some books before I was in a position to properly enjoy them put me off some authors that I would otherwise enjoy. For instance, I was supposed to read Great Expectations in the summer between eight and ninth grade, and I hated it with a passion. At one point I gave up, bought the cliff's notes, found even *that* too boring, and settled on reading the great illustrated classics version because at least it had pictures. I've avoided Dickens like the plague ever since. Now I keep meaning to try again since I am finding myself enjoying Victorian literature lately. But honestly, I keep thinking back to the horrors of Great Expectations (which I'm sure is a lovely book, but I just had no appreciation for it), and putting it off. And if, at that time, I wasn't already a big reader and Dickens was the only exposure to books that I had, I don't know if I would have taken to reading as much as I have. So, I'm ambivalent. Not to mention I'm sure that some (or even most) eight or ninth graders are perfectly able to enjoy Dickens. It's a tough call to make, but I don't think slipping in a more accessible book now and again would really hurt, so long as the fun books don't overshadow the classics. That said, I agree with most of the posters here that teaching all fun books and no classics is a big mistake.

Jul 23, 2008, 6:42am

You know, I'm not necesarily opposed to teaching contemporary literature in high school, but I don't necesarily think it should be things like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Eragon which may have dubious literary value* and, as has been mentioned, are well known to the age group.

What I'm getting at is I don't understand why studying contemporary literature seems to be left until college. Why not read Salman Rushdie, Khaled Hosseinni, Cormac McCarthy or Phillip Roth? I don't think you should eliminate classics altogether, but I think plenty of students would take more interest in what they're reading if at least some of the books were more contemporary.

Yes, there's always going to be the stigma of being forced to read something, but I think almost everyone (except maybe those who struggle with being able to read) can think of at least one book that they were forced to read and ended up enjoying. And some you'd probably hate even if you weren't forced to read them. (No matter what I will never enjoy The Red Badge of Courage or All Quiet on the Western Front. War narratives just aren't my thing.)

*This is not to say that these books don't have value as books, but that it is not the sort that a teacher is usually after in a literature class. Though even that is not necessarily true.

Jul 23, 2008, 8:38am

High school English anecdote:

In ninth grade we had to read A Tale of Two Cities. I loved it, but I was the only person who did (and also the only person who didn't use Cliff Notes).

One girl, frustrated, decided to read every other page. So, the righthand pages she read, and the lefthand, she skipped.

She pulled a C on the test.

Jul 30, 2008, 9:03am

I've seen many of the books I read but other ones not already on the list are Mythology: Edith Hamilton, I seem to recall the Book of Job, Sophie's World, Les Miserables, Catch-22.

Jul 30, 2008, 9:29am

Another recent high school graduate (class of '04) chiming in:

In my opinion, Literature classes should include a mix of classics and modern works of poetry, prose, and drama. I don't think fluff books like Harry Potter (as much as I enjoy them) are worth teaching to students. Kids can understand those sorts of books without being taught how to read and interpret them and all it does is officially encourage the lack of intellectual pursuit from which so many of them already suffer.

Most kids aren't encouraged to read at home and so would never think to pick up a classic or even modern literature (that isn't Gossip Girls *shudder*) if they didn't have to give it a try for a class. Even coming from a very literate home I learned a great deal and evolved into a better reader during some of my English classes. Participating in class discussions and being exposed to new ideas through the teachers' lectures, whether or not I agreed with them, broadened my perspective and allowed to me to things away from books I may not even have liked.

If a teacher puts in a little effort it is not difficult to show most kids that some of the classics are truly relatable and contain themes and ideas that are relevant to their own lives. Not only that, but they can learn to appreciate more modern works and expand their potential reading pool.

My senior year AP English course was taught by a man who was legendary even outside of my school district for being utterly amazing and he lived up to the hype, so to speak. He taught us everything from The Great Gatsby to For Whom the Bell Tolls to Equus, and even introduced us to the glory of The Godfather. When we read plays we would volunteer for roles (or be assigned if we never stepped forward on our own) and put on impromptu performances in class. That brought classic works like Othello and A Streetcar Named Desire to such vivid life that even many of the most reluctant students found themselves interested, amateur acting or no.

In other words, I don’t see “at least they’ll be reading at all if we pick things they already like” as an excuse to encourage close-mindedness in our youth. I am, perhaps, a little too adamant about this. ^_^

Aug 10, 2008, 9:13am

Up until recently I was teaching at a University that had many of it's undergraduate/sophomore lit. classes, mostly contemporary lit., taught by recently graduated masters students. We pretty much had free reign, and I'm still horrified by that to some extent. The reason is that while many of us had a good smattering of worthwhile works, there were a few who Always taught one of the harry potters (I remember one who taught the last one, but explained all of the earlier books so they'd "get" what they were reading, as well as Eragon. Personally, I can't imagine teaching those or Twilight in a high school, or even being allowed to unless it was for a reading club or Perhaps a creative writing class--though I wouldn't teach them there either.

I do think highschoolers need to read some more contemporary work though. We read some works from the seventies in middle school, but in high school? Not counting what I read in drama, I think the newest works I read were along the lines of Invisible Man (which we never discussed) and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I believe The Awakening was the only thing I read in high school that I didn't appreciate then...and still don't, regardless of rereads. I'd love to see high schools start to incorporate authors like McCarthy. I also think that The Beach by Alex Garland and Dreams from my Father would be wonderful choices for highschoolers that are both contemporary And literary. I'd want to put Kite Runner too, but I'm not sure how many high schools would approve it. Of course, if they're going for Twilight I might have a chance.

Aug 13, 2008, 11:34pm

I live in New York City and while doing an observation in a high school english class, the teacher was actually teaching Kite Runner. The students seemed to be really engaged. I loved the book and I agree that it is something contemporary as well as worthwhile. I am not sure if NYC is more liberal about what texts are taught in schools. I also don't know if the teacher had to fight to get the book included, but I thought it was a great change of pace from the typical Shakespeare (which I love, but didn't appreciate as much in high school) :-)

Aug 28, 2008, 12:22am

I'm interning in the English department of a Northern Virginian high school (part of my grad program) and I know that both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are being taught by at least one of the teachers.

Sep 4, 2008, 7:55pm

I definitely agree that high schools should primarily stick to the "classics". My favorite part of my AP English class was that we got to choose the supplementary works we read (with approval, of course) and we had to read more to get a better grade. Two of them had to relate to the other readings in the class--so one extra Greek tragedy and Shakespearean tragedy, for example--and then we could choose to read up to 2 others per semester to get a better grade in the class. I chose to read Catcher in the Rye, Picture of Dorian Grey, Les Miserables, and the Brothers Karamazov as my "extra" books. And from talking to all my friends who chose other books, I developed a list of books I wanted to read that I'm still working through--e.g., Pride & Prejudice, Bridge of San Luis Rey, Slaughterhouse 5, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tale of Two Cities... Recommendations from a peer have soooo much more impact than from a teacher!

Edited: Sep 12, 2008, 11:26am

My little brother is not much of an academic. He used to love being read to (that's actually how I discovered Harry Potter), but he was never interested in reading himself. Through his highschool english classes, I hoped he would learn a little something and maybe come around to reading. When, in his junior year, he told me he was reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the 3rd time, I was irritated. To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful book that I think all young people should read, but 3 times? I had him ask his teacher if he could read something else, which she refused to allow. I then wrote a letter to her, and she still refused. Eventually, my brother wrote his paper on the book without even opening it again, and I had to meet with the school board. They finally agreed to implement a system where student's wouldn't have to read the same book over and over.

Having said all that, the classics are important. But to stick to a set of texts to the detriment of your students is preposterous. Choices are important in cultivating a young mind, about reading or anything else. I believe that it is more important to lay a foundation of a few classics and to then incorporate various varieties of expression. The selection process for what is offered must be rigorous (I can't imagine ever reading Twilight again, much less attempting to TEACH it), but I really believe that something like Harry Potter can be used as an example of how to weave multiple layers of ideas into popular fiction. All you have to do is find the connections.

Sep 19, 2008, 5:19pm

I went to a private school, and it was pretty rigid with regards to the books we read in English class. All four years we read one of Shakespeare's tragedies (first Romeo and Juliet, then Macbeth, then Othello, then Hamlet. A lot of my high school teachers were, for some reason, against using the Romans and Greeks. The all-time worst book I've ever read was in 11th grade Honors English: Dubliners. Ugh.

It wasn't until college that I got to read the more modern stuff--I took a women writers class where we read Bridget Jones's Diary.

And I must have read To Kill A Mockingbird half a dozen times in middle and early high school.

Sep 19, 2008, 6:58pm

It's just awful when teachers don't consult one another on curriculum and students end up reading the same works time and again; all that does is turn them away from reading.

I also have a bone to pick with teachers that don't diversify. Shakespeare is wonderful and I definitely think his works should be taught, but we should give kids a chance to read plays (and, God forbid, books) from non-Anglo cultures. Maybe some Greek, Chinese, or Arabic literature? A South African novel or Argentinian poems wouldn't hurt them, teachers, I promise! Expand your minds, Dang it!

Sep 29, 2008, 1:36pm

I agree with Allama -- I can't tell you how many times I've read Romeo and Juliet in English and Theatre classes.

And I also agree with what many have already said -- high school literature classes are a wonderful opportunity to read books we wouldn't ever normally choose for ourselves. Among the novels we read were The Joy Luck Club and The Right Stuff -- and I loved both of them.

But it would be really nice to incorporate in more "contemporary" works, bringing in popular young adult and children's novels that can be deconstructed and analyzed in the same way we would To Kill A Mockingbird. I'm not saying they're on the same "literary" level (and haven't been canonized, that's for sure), but they would interest young students enough to maybe make them WANT to read more -- and keep reading.

Jan 1, 2009, 11:06am

I cannot believe any teacher forcing All Quiet on the Western Front on their class. I had to read it as well, in my sophomore year of high school. All I remember is how much I hated it. With that being said there were some books I was forced to read that made me come back for a second taste of the author. My most favorite was Enders Game by Orson Scott Card. He is one of my most favorite authors ever. I even got my entire family hooked just from that one book.

Jan 2, 2009, 5:56pm

Honestly I think its a good idea to stick with some classics but from my experience being forced to read some of the books we read in high school ruined reading for me. In high school I hated reading because I associated it with many of the boring books we had to read. For me it was torture. Now that I am not in high school I LOVE reading. There were a few books in college that I enjoyed but for me the torture continued. Not everyone has the same interests in books. There are a few classics I like but not everyone has the same interests, especially teenagers. I believe if they taught more modern books that they might enjoy as a whole would keep them interested in reading.

Jan 2, 2009, 9:07pm

There's definitely a difference between "sticking to the classics" and assigning a book like Twilight to high schoolers. I would have been insulted. I'm ok with teachers assigning more modern books along with the classics, but high school should be an introduction to adult literature. Yeah, it's a challenge for some kids, but so is learning anything new. I would let them choose books to read off of a list of classics before I'd assign Harry Potter or Twilight. Regardless of the literary merit of these books (which we could debate all day) they were written for children! I stopped reading YA books for fun well before middle school, and I was relieved that I stopped having them assigned for class when I started high school.

My high school had a good mix of books everyone had to read and books we could choose to read independently off of a list. I didn't love everything I was assigned, of course...but I'm not sorry I read any of it. At least I know what I like and dislike and why.

I know this is starting to sound a little indignant and preachy, and I don't mean for it to be. I'm just grateful for some of the exposure I got in high school to reading material I never would have picked up on my own.

Jan 3, 2009, 12:17pm

I would have to disagree with teachers assigning books like Twilight or HP in class. They're so popular, particularly with the age group we're talking about, it almost seems lazy to assign them. The kids will probably get to those books in their own time. I'm sure there are plenty of books which are more modern but less well-known teachers could be exposing students to.

Jan 3, 2009, 4:45pm

@ 31

I can't stand the supercilious tone people take regarding books "written for children"... as if children are stupid and so their books must be too. Thank heaven you stopped enjoying those books so quickly — you must really be smarter than everyone who didn't!

I enjoy a range of fiction, from classics to some modern works to, yes, YA and children's literature. I'm definitely not arguing for HP or Twilight to be put on required reading lists, but I don't see why you should take a swing at books written for young people in general. Just because a book is written for young people doesn't mean it has less intrinsic worth than the latest tome for adults by some touted author.

I just find your {insert adjective} tone — "I stopped reading YA books for fun well before middle school" — very revealing indeed. Are you even aware of how that comes across?

Jan 3, 2009, 7:58pm


I apologize if I insulted you. That was not my intention at all. I understand your problem with my post, but I would like to offer that "tone" is very hard to judge on the internet.

I never made any value judgment about YA literature. I in fact said that we could debate the value of Twilight and Harry Potter all day long. I didn't say that Twilight and Harry Potter were "written for children" to debase the books. These books are, in fact, written for children. They're in grade school and middle school libraries and in the YA section of bookstores. Students don't need to be introduced to these books. They're aware of them. Students who find them appealing have probably already read them.

Clearly there are "adult" books that are fluffy tripe and there are books for younger readers with a ton of literary merit. I think that goes without saying. I don't think that just any book written for adults should be fair game in a high school classroom either. The point of my post was that, in my opinion (for whatever it's worth) high school should be an introduction to adult literature. It's a challenge, but what better time and place to challenge yourself?

Jan 14, 2009, 3:46pm

I think its important for high school readers to be introduced to many different forms of literature, classics and contemporary novels included. Basing a course solely on YA lit like Twilight (especially Twilight) is simply not enough from an educational perspective.

It is difficult for teachers to create a syllabus which will both cover the material necessary and hold the attention of thier students so some sort of balance must be found. With any luck by reading A piece of popular literature the students may become motivated to continue reading on their own time.

I would also argue however that there are far better forms of contemporary literature that would be far more beneficial and thought provoking than Twilight. (Sorry to all the Twilight fans out there, while it is entertaining enough it truely is fluff and does not belong in the classroom)

Jan 23, 2009, 5:47pm

i think the best argument i can make for "contemperary popular fiction" being used in a high school class is the giver by lois lowry. i haven't met a single person who has read that book and not been extremely touched by it. talking about that book in a classroom setting, yes even with high schoolers, should bring about a good discussion about different types political systems and the importance of freedom, not only political freedom but the freedom of expression and the dissimination of knowledge.

Edited: Jan 25, 2009, 4:38pm

The notion that Eragon and Twilight are being taught in school, at any level, is mind-boggling to me. There is so much great literature, modern and otherwise, that students might never develop a taste for if not exposed to in school, simply because it's not on the front table under the big shiny signs at Borders. If English teachers want to develop their students as readers, to broaden their tastes, I think you need to dig a little deeper into the bookshelves. I graduated in 2006. Let's see if I can remember what my class read in school.
The Bible as Literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Antigone, Julius Caeser, The Odyssey, The House on Mango Street, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Catcher in the Rye, Flatland, Candide, or, Optimism, Henry V, The Stranger, The Trial, The Prince, Death in Venice, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, The Pilgrim's Progress, Heart of Darkness, Jane Eyre, Midnight's Children, Macbeth, On the Road, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Crime and Punishment, Invisible Man, The Grapes of Wrath, A Room of One's Own, 1984, Wide Sargasso Sea, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, short stories from everyone from Chekhov to Poe, and a ton of poetry...

Edited: Jan 28, 2009, 1:17am

In highschool I remember English being broken down.

Freshman year we did Romeo and Juliet, The Odessy, The Illiad, and a smattering of contemporary lit including the manatory summer read The Golden Compass

Sophomore year focused on American Literature we read
To Kill a Mocking Bird
A Raisin in the Sun
A Catcher in the Rye
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
as well as
The Scarlett Letter
and others... I believe we read Hamlet too... not sure though
We also watched movies for Huck Finn, A raisin in the sun, to kill a mocking bird, the scarlett letter, and Grapes of Wrath even though not all of us read it.

Junior year EVERYONE read Beowulf. Honors read it several times (gah) and regular read Grendell's Mother and had most of the rest read to them. (this year focused on Brit Lit)
We also read the Canterbury Tales (contemporary English translation) MacBeth and others.

Senior year was Senior's Choice... we could choose from English 4 (ap if you took honors 3) as well as Contemporary Classics, Comedy, Shakespeare, and others... I took Shakespeare and we acted out Hamlet, Richard the III, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and 3 or 4 others (I learned SO MUCH that year)

Now, the thing that held all of this together and is uniform through the school district is the Summer Reading List

The Summer Reading List begins after you finish 1st grade and follows you to 12th. In highschool there is a standard book that EVERYONE reads (The Golden Compass) and there were others where the plots stick with me and the names elude me. But you also chose two others books to read during the summer. Some of my favorite books were summer reads. Mists of Avalon, She's Come Undone, Picture Bride, and others.

Some teachers took a cue from this, such as my 10th grade teacher, who assigned what were the perennial favorites but then gave the students the option to pick and choose to fill in the gaps... but we also had an excellent writing/tutoring center and she was VERY dedicated to her students... she tried to set up people who chose the same books to read them together and learn how to have a discussion group (we'd break down in class 2-5 people all groups discussing a different book) and surprisingly, some kids who had been thought to be behind the curve proved that with the right material.. they excelled. Some kids got the best grades of their life that year.

So, I guess what I'm getting at is that the classics should be taught but in a way that students connect. Another method I like is that some teachers are now taking a classic and finding its contemporary counter part and teaching both.

A perfect example of this is that some shakespeare classes now read Taming of the Schrew (I did as well, just remembered) but then go and see the play Kiss Me Kate if possible and see the movie 10 things I hate about you...

I think some teachers are getting smart about teaching lit... others are giving up and the teacher mentioned in the first post is giving up.

#12 - Summer of my German Soldier in HIGH SCHOOL? That seems so, weird to me. I read it when I was... 9? 10 maybe. Devoured it all in one weekend on a camping trip and then made my dad taking 20 miles away to buy a new book to read LoL

EDIT I graduated in 2004 and sorry about the touchstones.. I got lazy.

Jan 28, 2009, 1:19am

This deserves its own post...


Just today I saw it on the shelf for required reading in English 102 which focuses on academic writing and the novel.

Edited: Jul 6, 2010, 1:17am

I am an '04 grad, and took Honors classes all the way through high school, where we were challenged with some books with difficult themes and language, mixed in with lighter reads, but still nonetheless what I would consider "good" reading. I am sorry to say that I think most of the students at my school, specifically, those who elected not to take Honors course, did not get much exposure to good literature. They would spend an entire semester going through a textbook and working on basic writing skills, only reading 1 book a year at most. I am grateful for the exposure to certain types of literature, though to be honest I think the literature could have been even more challenging, considering it was an honor's course.

Some of the titles we read:

The Fountainhead - I remember it being very hard to grasp, but the class discussion was thought-provoking.
To Kill a Mockingbird - loved
The Old Man and the Sea - hated
The Great Gatsby- another love
The Grapes of Wrath- hated at the time, though I think if I were to read it again I would like it better. We also watched the movie of this and were allowed to choose groups and film ourselves performing a chapter.
Boy's Life - liked
Walking Across Egypt- liked
The Testament- yes, the John Grisham book. In hindsight, was probably a good idea...this was in 9th or 10th grade. I know it got many of my classmates into Grisham novels who otherwise wouldn't have been reading.
Fahrenheit 451- liked. The guys in the class seemed to love it, though.
Romeo and Juliet- another one were we got to create a video. Certainly made it more interesting!
A Midsummer Night's Dream- loved it, though didn't like most of the other Shakespeare plays.
We also read TONS of classic short stories and poetry, along with the dreaded Beowulf and other mythology.
Pretty sure I'm leaving a few books off the list...I remember reading some others, but I don't remember the titles.

Oh, and while I didn't read this in school, I also suggest assigning The Giver- a great discussion book!

Jul 6, 2010, 6:23am

I didn't take English after GCSE (age 16) because I really hated the literature side of it, so my lit exposure in an academic context is pretty limited.

The Shakespeare Bit
Macbeth - Liked it
The Tempest - Hated it, awful teacher that year
Romeo & Juliet - Loved it
Henry IV:Part 1 - Love/hate relationship with this

The Other Stuff
Great Expectations - Liked it
My Family & Other Animals - No idea, can't remember it at all!
The Go-Between - Bane of my life for an entire year

At this point, I completely forget everything else, which is a bit rubbish as it's only ten years since I was reading these things. There was something with a fox in it, and then something else with a plane crash in it... delightfully vague, I am!

If I had my time again, I would probably do more English, and thus be far better read than I am now!

Edited: Jul 6, 2010, 10:18am

Good topic...

In high school, I took AP English and AP European History and between the two did quite a bit of reading over the 4 years...

My high school had a student population that was 95% African American. So we read a lot of the classics of the Black cannon as well ... Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, James Weldon Johnson, Countee Cullen, Phillis Wheatley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude Mckay, Jean Toomer, Amiri Baraka, August Wilson

So, we covered the major Caucasian writers and most of the major Black Writers... I wish I would have been introduced to Native American writers, Asian American writers and Lationo writers as well...

I remember reading:
The Bluest Eye
Huckleberry Finn
Invisible Man
All Quiet of the Western Front
A Midnight Summer Dream
The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock
Black Boy
Native Son
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
A Doll's House
The Tempest
Romeo & Juliet
Death of a Salesman
A Raisin in the Sun
Scarlett Letter
Invisible Man
Julius Caesar
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Great Gatsby
Of Mice and Men
The Prince
Canterbury Tales
The Piano Lesson

Middle School:
Great Expectations
Lord of the Flies
Autobiography of Malcolm X
To Kill a Mockingbird
Animal Farm

Jul 10, 2010, 3:16am

Oh boy, let's see...

Hamlet - LOVE IT.
Julius Caesar - Funny stuff.
Othello - Iago is a badass.
Man for All Seasons - Eh.
Death of a Salesman - Eh.
Beowulf - Awesome.
Animal Farm - Eh.
To Kill a Mockingbird - CLASSIC.
Great Gatsby - Eh.
The Picture of Dorian Gray - LOVE IT. Romeo and Juliet - Boring.
West Side Story - Funny stuff.
The Outsiders - Boring.
A Catcher in the Rye - LOATHE.
Night - Depressed for a week.
Frankenstein - CLASSIC.
The Glass Menagerie - Eh.
The Importance of Being Earnest - Hilarious. LOVE IT.
The Canterbury Tales - CLASSIC.
Oedipus Rex - Funny stuff.
The Scarlet Letter - Actually one of my favorites!

Jul 10, 2010, 9:23pm

I remember reading and performing (in class at least) Shakespeare in middle school and high school. The classics are meant to be taught because they are the pieces of literature that have lasted! We read Homer, Gatsby, Orwell, Wilde, Tennyson - people who legitimately belong in the literary canon.

I admit to reading and enjoying Twilight -- I have no opinion on Eragon since I did not read that one -- but I would be appalled to hear about a teacher thinking those are acceptable texts! What could they possibly teach?! They certainly won't be on graduation or AP tests, and I doubt ANYONE could write a worthwhile scholarly paper.

I think, when it comes to learning about literature, you cannot always read what you want. There are plenty of things I've read for classes that I absolutely loathed, but I can still add it to my experience and take something from the text. There is no reason to assign a book that is nothing but fluff when there are so many more worthwhile texts.

Guess I'm kind of a snob about this kind of thing, but I appreciate the teachers who made me read things in high school that I still love today.

Jul 19, 2010, 10:36pm

I feel shifting classroom focus to books like Twilight and Harry Potter completely misses the point. While there were some books that I couldn't see myself enjoying no matter the context (John Steinbeck how I loathe thee), what killed the enjoyment for me for a lot of books in high school was the fact that I had to read them for class. The tedious days spent analyzing the symbolic importance of Mattie's last name being Silver (rather than Gold) in Ethan Frome or the nature of sin (as interpreted by 17 year olds) in The Scarlet Letter turned books into brussel sprouts...something that was "good for me" but tasted like crap.

I didn't fully appreciate books like The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird or any of Shakespeare's plays until I read them again on my own time. Meanwhile, books that are typically assigned to high school or college English classes such as The Age of Innocence or Atonement I devoured and would call my favorites.

I think the only book that not only survived a class assignment, but also became a favorite upon first read through was The Master and Margarita which I read in a Russian Lit class in college. But then again, that's college where you spend two or three classes tops discussing a single book.

Jul 21, 2010, 11:44pm

While teaching Twilight and Harry Potter in the classroom may have some upsides - the children may be more interested, there are some interesting themes (particularly in HP - you could analyse the etymology of the spells used, etc) but certainly does not help children develop good language skills.

Having read both books (admittedly I only read Twilight under sufferance as my sister insisted that I 'must' read it), from a language point of view, neither book is well written. That is to say neither could be described as elegant prose.

I am hopeful that these are not the only texts being taught as it’s important for children and teenagers to be exposed to a wide variety of linguistic styles.

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