The “Dead White Guys”
This is a photo of Shakespeare (one of the “dead white guys”). He wrote a number of works and is known primarily in high schools for his plays. Photo Credit: Erin
In a recent read, How Classics Create an Alliterate Society by Donald R. Gallo, I had a flashback to my high school English classroom. Granted high school for me was just two years ago, but ironically even just two years ago I still had read the same thing my parents read thirty years ago – “the dead white guys”. We may laugh about that phrase, but it’s true, high school English classrooms’ curriculum consist of these classics written by famous, dead, white authors. Not much of a variety in literature and nothing has changed.
So will it ever change? Does it even matter if it doesn’t change?
Here’s the thing, I liked the classics, I still like the classics. Even now I find myself loving English Literature course reads (British, dead, white guys). Except what about the rest of the students sitting in the classroom, even my high school classroom? What about those who didn’t connect to these authors, or find any real value to their works? Shouldn’t they be allowed to read more contemporary works that would leave them feeling satisfied?
Another thing. No matter what era we pull a literate work from we can find the same topic of discussion (usually) in today’s literate world. So, why does it matter? Why not teach more contemporary novels versus The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mocking Bird?
Why not teach an audience of students what they are interested in? Would it be a shame for students to enjoy reading and maybe continue on with it the rest of their entire adult life and then go even further and pass this passion of reading on to their children?
It’s important for students to connect with reading. Every student deserves that revolutionary moment where they can understand and appreciate the value of a book or story. Books have the ability to educate and entertain readers at the same time. On the other spectrum, as authors, it gives them an opportunity to express beliefs, values, interests, and ideals. This literate world we have the privilege to be a part of is truly outstanding.
I’m not saying omit the classics completely because they do have value. What I’m saying is, we need to focus on the students first and what excites them and then sprinkle in a few of the classics.
Five Revolutionary Book Moments for Me in High School
I want to share the love of books and literacy with the world. Some people are on the same understanding level as myself, some are above me and some haven’t had their revolutionary moment yet. For those who haven’t felt a spark, I hope you give it a try and pick up a book or story and then another, and another until it becomes a habit.
My Senior year of high school our history teacher assigned us the novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Kahled Hosseini. I was not sure what to expect as I began reading the novel. Kahled Hosseini is an Afghan-American author who chooses to write about culture in the middle east. In this particular story that is exactly what I got, culture, which was very different from my own. I found out quickly that I differed in several ways from this culture, but I loved learning about it through a story. I became educated while being entertained and that is revolutionary. This book had meaning, knowledge, and opportunity for me to grow outside of my comfort zone and travel into a new culture without having to actually travel. Literature offers that type of experience and it’s great because i’m a poor college student who hates flying over any type of water.
I have a thing for laughing. What makes me chuckle you may ask? A good Ironic story. I know it’s probably considered a classic, but this is one that even got the “reading haters” to laugh. Kate Chopin’s, “Story of an Hour” has an ironic twist where a character “dies from a broken heart”. It’ll make you laugh. Trust me. Read it – it’s short. In this moment, I knew I loved reading, because it offers me an opportunity to laugh and laughing is just the best.
My freshman year of high school, a friend told me I needed to read the Harry Potter series, because i’d never read any of the books (gasp). I started reading it, and to my surprise I quickly found out why I’d never been intrigued by it to begin with. It just wasn’t my thing. BUT I learned some value from this book. I learned that I have a choice to read what I like in my spare time. The fact that I don’t have to like what everyone else likes is OKAY. Being my own reader and knowing I can “abandon” a book was revolutionary to me.We all like different things and that’s why there are so many genres out there to choose from. So I would say, don’t be discouraged if you haven’t found what you like yet! There’s something written for every type of person!
When I was a little girl, it seemed that every story had a lesson. I remember my Mom and Nana reading me, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the storyline the tree would always give whatever it could to the little boy and even as he aged into an old man. The moral became quite clear about giving, trust, and dependency on others.
Now, in my sophomore year of high school, I read the book My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (one of my favorite authors). In this plot there are two sisters. Kate has leukemia while her sister Anna is conceived primarily to become a bone marrow match for her sister. Anna gives all she can, until she desires to be more than just a person who gets poked with needles constantly.
I remember being emotional (bawling my eyes out basically until I could no longer read the words) because I have two sisters. At this moment, I couldn’t believe that a book in itself could make me feel such heartache and consume me with such emotion. I kept reading and connected it to The Giving Tree. I found that it’s so cool that literature can have the same lessons in each age group or genre. Like everything just snowballs and becomes even greater.
My last favorite moment is more like an experience over time. As I’ve gotten older this experience has become such a huge part of my life. That experience is what I like to call community. There is a large community of readers in the world, which makes it super easy to connect with others. My favorite thing ever is when I get to tell my friend about a good book and they get to tell me about a good book… AND THEN we get to read them because we both love the same books 9 out of 10 times. Connecting with people over literature is a feeling that becomes rather fulfilling. These types of relationships last forever and that’s revolutionary.
Photo Credit: Hill Creek Pictures
I hope if you’re not an avid reader you may aspire to be some day. Set some goals. Start small. Put yourself out there and define your own moment(s).