All my teaching experience has been informal, usually one-on-one. Last week, I had the opportunity to teach my step-son. It was something of a crisis situation, and I had two conflicting goals to accomplish. First, I had to provide him with a lesson in the importance of education: you need to do the work, even when the subject doesn’t interest you. Second, I wanted to instill in him an appreciation of literature.
The first goal is about work ethic. It’s a lesson in how to accomplish a goal and fulfill a commitment, even when the commitment isn’t entirely voluntary. It’s a very practical lesson that sacrifices quality for quantity—the important thing is to produce, not to enjoy it or to take the time to savor it. Unfortunately, a general education tends to force such situations. It is far from ideal, but the benefits of a general education often outweigh the detriments.
The second goal is about exposure and appreciation. Kids, when they do the work, can be exposed to literature in the classroom. If the situation is conducive to it, they might even develop an appreciation for what they read or, at least, for reading in general. For many students, the situation isn’t conducive to it, and my step-son is in such a situation.
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty (not to mention private) details. Suffice it to say, my husband’s and my influence are not the only influences, and internal and external turmoil aren’t always the best environments to foster literary appreciation. When I lived through different, but similarly trying, circumstances as a teenager literature was my release. For him, music is the release and one I’m not wont to criticize. He needs to do what works for him.
In short, though my step-son does read for pleasure, he takes little pleasure in reading material not of his own choosing.
These circumstances are not an excuse for not doing the work (goal one), but the combined pressure to perform within these circumstances does complicate the development of literary appreciation (goal two). My solution, controversial as it may be, was to separate the two.
First, perform. Read for answers, not for holistic comprehension. Be the student, not the reader.
Later, once the pressure has been released, we are going back and re-reading the stories. We will discuss and interact. We will appreciate or deride as the mood and flavor suits us.
When I was in high school, the teachers often approached material from an authoritative perspective: This is good, so you should appreciate it. But that’s not true appreciation. It’s merely exposure. For literary appreciation to be developed, the reader has to have the personal authority to dislike, criticize, object, argue, and deride, just as the reader has the personal authority to like, laud, agree, defend, and compliment. It is this freedom, and the time to do it well, that helps a student become an appreciative reader, even when reading isn’t “his thing.”