Sunday, May 13, 2012

Teach the Books, Touch the Heart

This was the title of a wonderful article about the value of literature, from the New York Times three weeks ago, written by Claire Needell Hollander, an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan. I haven't been able to stop thinking and talking about this since I first read it.

The first three paragraphs:

"FRANZ KAFKA wrote that 'a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.' I once shared this quotation with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation.

We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.” 

But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate. 

And the last paragraph:

We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts. By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all. We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound. We may succeed in raising test scores by relying on these methods, but we will fail to teach them that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them. 


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

I am going back to read Of Mice and Men right now! Thanks for pointing out the article, I wish Claire Needell Hollander had been my English teacher!(I absolutely love the Kafka quote.)

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

oops, there's a mistake in that previous URL, here is the correct one!