Wednesday, April 04, 2007

YA Literature vs. the Classics

The old YA vs. the canon debate gets another airing in a long article in this week's Education Week. For the informed it may read as a bit of a muddle but for someone new to the debate it might serve as an adequate primer. One noteworthy flaw: they call CEE's own Janet Alsup "Jane."

Dark Themes in Books Get Students Reading
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Chanelle Brown hasn’t found much she can relate to in the classic texts assigned in her English classes at Evanston Township High School. A top student, the junior has toiled through The Odyssey, All the King’s Men, The Scarlet Letter, and other standards, she said, while many of her classmates at the suburban Chicago school have given up reading them altogether.

“The themes are kind of dead now,” she said, “and I don’t feel like any of the stories apply to me.”

But Ms. Brown is glad that teachers at Evanston High, like educators elsewhere, have been supplementing the canon with recently published books to provide a more varied, and palatable, literary menu for students. Such decisions, some experts say, can add the kind of engaging and relevant content that high school reform advocates have been calling for.

Nevertheless, the use of popular literature has run up against traditionalists, who fear it will dumb down the curriculum, and parents who object to the controversial themes that characterize many of the selections.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Teachers always get tied up in an apple and oranges debate. Traditionalist must open the door a bit and those who march foward and cry that the cannon exclude women, people of color and don't address present themes must recognize the importance of the cannon. They should be taught, in tandem.
The literature in the cannon can serve as the text you use to model how you want your students to analyze literature. The modern literature could be used for student projects and for developing class writing assignments.
The advantage to doing this is you maintain student interest and when you match the literature in the cannon with modern books students begin to see similarities. I teach middle school and work as a storyteller and I tell my student their is no absolutely original storyline or theme. Before reading a novel from the cannon I will tell the students a short folktale or fable with a similar theme. Assign as homework a contemporary novel(I have the students select from a group of several books with the related theme) that student teams create a project on for class presentations. And my boring old cannon novel, becomes exciting as the weeks pass by becasue they have schema and a connection. When they read a textbook excerpt or one of my "boring" required books I point out how their themes are similar to contemporary literature and even older folklore.
The cannon literature can't be kicked to the curb until they disappear from standardize test. It has always angered me, as an African American educator, and parent when I hear educators who argue against teaching the cannon to urban students or students of color because of their lack of interest. My God, that's the job, we are to create disciples for the content we teach. Meaning we shouldn't expect them to enter our classrooms ready to love what we teach. Through preparation on our part and through creating the proper background knowledge and front loading students will fall in love with the cannon. It is a disservice to the students to fail to teach them the literature cannon. The text that appear on the State standardize test and SAT will come from the cannon.
On the other hand for the traditionalist, the students also should have their experience, culture, validated by presenting modern literature that can serve as schema for understanding the concepts in the the literary cannon. When we activate their background knowledge in this manner they will get pass the long complicated descriptive language in Crime and Punishment" and realize it is one of the most gritty piece of literature ever written. Can you imagine a father who pimps out his daughter and refuse to allow her into the family home. The literary cannon is full of sub stories that would make students want to inhale a book. When that happens we have our disciples.