Monday, April 23, 2012

Media Monday: Societal Values and Literature

Recently, I have had the opportunity to read several books based on the Civil Rights Era due to my special access pass to my school's book room. So while our students get to read The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, so do I (ANOTHER great thing about my job).

In reading these historical fiction books, I have been transported to my To Kill a Mockingbird and Roll of Thunder Hear, My Cry years - ones fraught by riding the struggle bus. Unlike most of my peers, I read these books and was outraged by my friends' ability to ignore moral turpitude in the face of adolescent self-absorption. I cared about things like white privilege (and straight privilege and male privilege) while they only cared about what was for lunch. And I know that the same thing is going on in the schools I work in today: some students find out the real history of the United States and are moved to action, as others are apathetic, while still more students are on the opposite end of the spectrum - true racists, homophobes or mysogynists.

A quietly-handled hate crime shed light on this very fact not long ago at my school. Someone tagged the only African-American teacher's door with the N-word, students who were reading the very same novels mentioned above, novels that flip the coin to show what struggle looks like, feels like. And clearly, these novels had zero impact on these haters. I have always believed strongly in the power of literature and this hate crime was not only an astounding display of close-minded ignorance, but also spit on the very foundations of that belief.

It seems LAUSD agrees with the haters on one thing - that the benefits of reading literature are slim - and as a result of this belief, are reducing English class literature instructional time to 30%, leaving the remaining 70% for technical reading, such as articles and manuals. I think about how different my life would have been had reading literature not been a cornerstone of my education. Who would I be? As an adolescent, I founded very basic elements of my character, personality, and outlook on books I read, authors I admired, words I loved.

I don't know what this new piece of legislation (that is being accepted in 48 states, by the way) will do to the next generation, but I can't imagine it will be anything good. Children have to be taught to love reading, and the newspaper is no way to do that.

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