Why do we read? This is a question I've been thinking about a lot this week. As an English teacher, I pretty much have to force kids to read. When I say "pull out Animal Farm" I hear instant moans and groans. The thing is - most of my kids DO read. They read something every single day. It may not always be a book but I know my students read. I see them reading text messages, Instagram posts, Buzzfeed articles, etc. So I know that they don't hate reading. They love to read to communicate.
But the second I ask them to pull out one of those books from "the Canon", we lose them. Why? Because people don't read to understand simile, metaphor, and symbolism. People generally read for selfish purposes. What does this book say about ME? How does it relate to MY life? What can I learn from this book?
Ultimately, as an English teacher, I feel that we have to answer those questions before we can move on to questions concerning the author's choices. My 9th grade English students were assigned to read Animal Farm over the summer. I was happy that they actually did read it but I also understood that most of them hated every moment they spent reading through that book. They came in with so many questions including, but not limited to, "why is this book so boring?" and "what do pigs have to do with anything?" And I totally get it! There true question is "so what?"
But today we talked in more detail about the book. We discussed it. We didn't start with metaphor and simile. I didn't ask them to pick out the symbols or themes. I asked them "so what?" What does this book say about you? Or about your life and the people you know?
That's my first job as an English teacher - to help students develop a relationship with a story. They may not understand the ins and outs of Communism but they do understand that people can abuse power. They see the seniors walk through the hall showing their power in different ways. They understand that some people are naturally born into a position of power. That is something they can relate to. And now that I've got them hooked, and now that I've also shown them that this book does make comments that relate to their lives, only now can I start to ask them to analyze this story through a literary lens.
And boy, I think these kids are going to blow me away!