What feeds your soul?
If I didn’t know about The Odyssey…or ancient storytelling, what would my relationship with incredible texts be with N.K. Jemison, Junot Diaz, Adrianne Huron, Neil Gaiman, Naomi Alderman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Colson Whitehead…and on and on. Writers from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences, all weaving grand stories…if I didn’t have exposure to canon, would the texts and discussions be as rich?
The Battle of the Canon by Amber Counts from Three Teachers Talk created a little bristle in me at first, but then reading further I understand her opinion. Student choice is valuable.
My students regularly start with more contemporary books like The Help or The Road and then choose, for various reasons, to explore books from the canon. Often, they have built confidence due to the work we do together in class with shorter texts and from their own choice reading, and they feel comfortable taking on a challenge. Sometimes, they decide that they want to read books they’ve always heard about. I currently have students who have chosen to read Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, and Les Miserables on their own. When we have book talks and the students begin speaking with excitement about the books they’re reading, you better believe that others will want to read these books, too. I’ve seen it happen for several years in a row; students read more canonical texts due to choice than they ever would if the books were strictly assigned.
(And I hope she really doesn’t believe ‘rigor’ means ‘old.’ Perhaps I am overly sensitive to ageism.)
But here is Helen Mirren, bringing Stephen Colbert to tears, reading Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses.’
Why is there a battle at all? How would I frame this in the similar situation and privilege of teaching AP students? I am not sure. Until I am teaching ELA again do I put these ideas away like wooly sweaters when spring arrives? So perhaps it comes down to this: forcing students to read without purpose or relevancy because it’s always ‘been done this way’ is the most surefire way to demotivate anyone. Encouraging my students here, now, no matter the subject, that ‘it’s okay to be smart’ may be the best way to launch them. Every day my message is: it’s okay to be curious, it’s wonderful to be curious– it makes life AMAZING to be curious!
Since I am not that familiar with Tennyson’s work I looked up the poem, and listened again, sparked by what brought Colbert to tears.
I get it now.