Saturday, January 28, 2012

Just call me Hester Prynne...

I jest, of course.  I am not Hester Prynne - nor would I ever commit an act such as she did.  However, when I mention her, those of literary merit (or who don't live under a rock) recognize the reference to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  This recognition comes from being well read in LITERATURE as a modality of understanding modern culture, or even pop culture, if you will.  While this book is far from the most referenced piece (we'll get to that later), it is well-known.  Just recently it was turned into a modern day isolation film entitled easy A depicting the life of poor Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) and her pedantic identity as a whore.  She was, of course, not a whore (neither was Hester Prynne - foolish and naive, yes - a whore? No.). 

This movie adaptation is far from the list of references to The Scarlet Letter.  It has multiple allusions in film, opera, plays, television, and even music.  Bands such as Metallica, Casting Crowns, Nirvana, and of course Taylor Swift (with a double hit allusion of Romeo and Juliet) pay homage to the lady that wears the red letter of shame.

But, did you know that new English standards are looking to remove much of literature from our teaching?  That rather than reviewing with our students the finer points of Shakespeare, a man who felt writing in iambic pentameter for entire plays was apparently fun, we will now teach more non-fiction and mostly, informational text.  Say it with me...What the ????????  Fill in whatever word you need there.

Creative fictional literature is the crux of modern society.  Most of what we read now, what we watch on television, what we hear in songs bases its roots in classic tales.  Shakespeare is the most referenced work of fiction EVER and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone (and I say this with some confidence but not 100%) who doesn't know who he is.  Well written literature is as ingrained in our lives (everywhere - not just America) as food, as oxygen, as water.  I am outraged at the shift away from it in public education.

We wonder why our children can't read?  Why they can't comprehend?   Because they don't really read, not anything that requires depth of feeling or character or thought.  We, as a public institution of education, have shifted our students minds from the creative and imaginative to literal and very surface level.  It takes MINIMAL thought to read and comprehend a non-fiction piece of text.  It happened.  There is proof.  World War II cannot be denied, Vietnam was real.  And while I fully appreicate non-fiction works that allow my students to be privy to the disasters of these wars, books that require the mind to work make huge impacts, too.  The Book Thief opens more students to understanding what happened in the Holocaust than a reading in their History book, The Things they Carried paints a vivid picture of Vietnam more clearly than a news article from that time.  It is not because our students cannot appreciate the historical merit of informational and non-fiction text, but I believe it is because they feel disconnected from this type of reading.  But fiction - a story?  It grabs the heart and forces a surrender of even the most resistant reader.  I've watched it happen year after year with To Kill a Mockingbird.   

A book or story has characters.  Characters like me and like you placed in situations that seem so real they cause us to wonder - how would I have handled this?  Am as I strong as Atticus Finch?  As brave as Boo Radley?  Would I have the guts to do what I had to do with Lenny?  Does my love run as deep as for Annabelle Lee?  Birth, death, love (of all kinds - especially unrequited), romance (which is not the same as love), crimes, mystery, resolve, justice all come to life in the pages of creativity.  And the "powers that be" are removing this from education why?  Stupidity.  That's really the only answer.  I fear they believe if they can force factual information into young minds that somehow, someway, they'll become better thinkers in the end.  Bass-ackwards!!!!

It seems to me they lack a basic understanding of what goes on in a young mind.  Well, for them I say "Beware the Ides of March" because their current line of thinking may have them saying "E tu Brutus?" when this generation stabs them in the back (I mean metaphorically, of course, when this group of youngsters doesn't have enough general intelligence to secure an average paying job to feed their multiple children breathing through welfare that will run out most likely before I die and suck what's left of our failing economy completely dry just before America implodes.).  Just a thought.

1 comment:

  1. Wish I knew who "the powers that be" are. I'd provide them with a copy of this.

    Great writing and point well taken!