All over the country, students are wiped out. Boomers blame social media, and they may be right. But there is a kind of indoctrination that twists my tools – I mean the culture of the American high school English class.
These days, there is a lot of evaluation of what we teach children, beyond history classes. Although history shapes our worldview, it also works. Most of the stories we read are… tragic. Stories should teach us about the world; They shouldn’t try to make us hate him.
Often, the tasks we are given are negative arguments – arguments against something, not because one thing. This is made clear by the abundance of dystopian literature in public school curricula. “Fahrenheit 451,” “1984,” “Brave New World” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” may be on your regular reading list. It’s exhausting to read this kind of thing. I understand, Mr. Hough, the whole idea is bad.
“But,” you might say, “what’s wrong with encouraging that? Totalitarianism is wrong!” Of course I agree with that. But what a is it a good government? What do we want? What do we use as a goal to motivate us?
I’m not saying that writing about negative events is wrong; but the lack of nuance. Because we try to learn values by showing the object no do, we don’t inspire students with their stuff necessary work. Take the famous American novel, “The Great Gatsby.” What a love affair! Love! The drama! Criticism of the elite!
I hate “The Great Gatsby.” Fitzgerald’s magnum opus comes as he resents everyone, not just society’s elite. Just look at the pictures: Tom Buchanan, a racist, misogynistic, meatheaded, promiscuous and rich boy; Daisy, a shallow, petty princess who betrays Gatsby many times; Gatsby, a stalker with deep social connections through Wolfsheim, is deceived by an illusion of Daisy; Nick Carraway, who saw that his cousin had been deceived, did not speak, and then he considered this position superior to the friends he always surrounded himself with; and George Wilson, a weakling turned murderer. Don’t get me started on his wife.
Fitzgerald was known to dehumanize people. There is no good person in his story, no one to look up to. What happens when this is taught to high school students? For one thing, it glorifies without realizing the bitterness of Daisy and Gatsby, but if we look deeply into Fitzgerald’s argument, we will not see the plan for serious relationships. One thing is for sure, but life is not black and white. People – and their relationships – are complex, and our assessment of their complexities helps us become better people.
Figures like Tom’s are very simple. It’s ugly, racist and violent. He cannot be bought. What can we learn from him, if not like him? This pessimism about social problems makes them feel inferior, and it is difficult for us to apply the lessons we learn in our lives. Real people, while flawed, have other qualities. It would be easy to dismiss these people as victims, but most are not. That’s what makes these problems difficult at first.
Children spend a lot of time at school reading tragic stories. It is unfortunate that most high schools read Shakespeare’s tragedies. John Steinbeck was another writer who killed his characters, but he was the English teacher of the ninth grade every day.
Not all English literature is like this. “To Kill a Mockingbird” can show the good and the bad in people. It has a bitter end rather than a happy end. I agree with the truthers that wonderful, happily-ever-after stories are doomed, and most people don’t have the flawless qualities of epic heroes like Beowulf and Diomedes. But there is such a thing as overcorrection – there are good people, and life is not always a problem. I think we should read more Harper Lees and George Orwells and Nathaniel Hawthornes.
Earlier, I spoke of a shift in thinking about the way history is taught in the United States. Emphasis will be placed elsewhere. This is a clear need. So, why not expand the way we study literature? Russian history is ripe with bitter, dramatic stories that evaluate the human condition. Writers like Fyodor Dostoyevsky cover serious topics, to be sure, but there is no sense of misanthropy. Razumihin and Prince Myshkin are real but respectable people. East Asian works are not kept in literary circles. Latin American classics like “Love in the Time of Cholera” capture exactly the kind of story we need. Mishima and Allende’s characters have the nuance and practical dilemmas that fiction deserves, while remaining realistic and entertaining.
Complex things and stories, things that cover good and bad, can help us understand people. The 2020 election continues. In a way, the late results are a good thing, although they force us to contend with the fact that about seventy million people do not agree with each other in this country. This year is a dividing year, and if we hope to bridge the gap between rural and urban America, we need to see the good in people. Just like Boo Radley is not the monster he was made out to be, the majority of Trump and Biden voters are more than what they supported in an election. Everyone has their own way of fighting, and if we want to reach agreement, we need to recognize that.
So let’s be more cosmopolitan with the books we read and don’t want to put another dystopian novel in the hands of a 13-year-old who learned the evils of Stalinism from a classroom social studies. The English literature has its own history, however, the work like “Lolita” is not exactly what I am talking about. There are many foreign Atticus Finches that can serve as models for us out there. We need to find them.
Aaron Ravin it was a first year at Benjamin Franklin College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.