In New York City they have this special, special thing that they do to their 8th grade public school students. It's called "the high school match process" (or something similarly innocuous-sounding) and it is, shall we say, challenging.
Which is a fairly long-winded way of saying that Diana and I have been trudging around the city, looking for high school. And before I get too sidetracked by that, let me try to train my focus on one of the interesting things about this: we've been to A LOT of high school libraries and English classes.
If I weren't so personally invested in the outcome, I would probably find the process fascinating. But as it is, it's more…confusing. Disturbing. Scary.
Yesterday, for instance, Diana was enraged by an English teacher who said (variously): I try to match the child to the text. We try to teach complex texts. We want the students to learn to analyze the texts. (Can you tell? He said "texts" a lot.) Hemingway might have vocabulary on a 7th grade level, but that doesn't mean it's a 7th grade text. The Hunger Games is not a complex text—I don't mean it's not a good book, but it's not a complex text.
I was confused. And so I asked a question: Does this mean you are mostly teaching process—how to analyze a (cough) text? You don't teach any specific books or areas of literature?
The answer (paraphrased): "The way people USED to teach (note: he refrained from saying "old lady") was that they covered literature, no matter the student's level. And the kids at the top were bored, the ones in the middle were fine, and the ones at the bottom were totally lost. Not anymore. Now we teach HOW to read, and everyone reads at his or her own level, lots of different books. Of course, there are some things we read to have cultural literacy, like Shakespeare, but kids in high school aren't really ready to read Shakespeare this way. I mean, we might read it because they should know what Hamlet is, but we wouldn't read it aloud or perform it or anything…"
And I don't know what to think. Diana knows what to think: she HATED him. She hated him for saying The Hunger Games—a book she doesn't even really like, actually—was not complex. (I tried to define his use of complex, but clearly failed.) And she DOUBLE HATED him for saying they aren't ready to read Shakespeare.
And honestly, it's hard not to want to call bullshit on him. But I don't know—I don't know anything about what they're supposed to come out of English class with, really. And he teaches 10th graders. Surely he knows something. But I hate that Shakespeare gets put into this gated community of literature.
On the way home, Diana argued passionately for her current (8th grade) teacher's way: in her classroom library, in the same bin with The Hunger Games you can find The Violent Bear It Away and Wise Blood. THAT'S how books should be. And my heart says yes. But maybe there is something I don't understand?