mirrorshard: (Vigee Le Brun)
[personal profile] mirrorshard
I keep hearing, from one source or another, about how English teachers completely turned them off reading, or how English teachers sparked their lifelong love of $author(s). (If English isn't your first literary language, substitute. Or not, as you prefer. You know the drill.)

A lot of them have seemed a bit absolutist - don't like anything we read in school, usually. Oddly, it doesn't seem to go the other way, but then I don't think I've ever met anyone who liked everything.

My experience was always that I'd make up my own mind about each piece, and I don't think it was the teacher (or the fact that it was In School) that did it. Then again, that might be because I was lucky enough to grow up in a house full of books, with family that approved of my reading, so books were nothing special to me. Intellectually, I understand that there are people who don't have this experience, but it's not something I've ever discussed with people - are any of you in that position?

Of course, it probably helped that I enjoyed school - or at least most lessons - too. I was always enthusiastic and engaged, though occasionally over-snarky about something I'd decided I didn't like. My likes and dislikes never seemed to divide themselves along genre or form lines, at least, and I don't recall having to study anything I actually disliked.

I did manage to OD on Death of a Salesman, and I probably wouldn't have finished Jane Eyre if it hadn't been for A-level English, but then it would have been years before I discovered Jane Austen otherwise, too.

So am I that atypical? (This is probably a rhetorical question, given the skewed nature of LJ. I'd be interested to find out if any of you had the "classic" turned-off-by-teacher experience.)

Date: 2007-03-30 04:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] yaqub.livejournal.com
I was in the happy (and unusual, it seems) position of having next to no compulsory literature. There were, IIRC, 3 books that we had to read and write essays on. You could escape this by doing a play instead. But other than that, any books you put on your reading list were your own decision. Of course, if you chose to put a lot of simple fiction (say, Stephen King) on your reading list, this would in turn reflect on your grades.

My take on the situation was to skip all the chewed out authors and their chewed out works (I guess other people would call them 'classics') and find other books to read. I did discover some interesting books through that. Some of which I found in our attic, the others in the public library. It caused one of my Dutch teachers to exclaim once 'That's another title I don't know!', but when the final exam came, I also got a compliment for the originality of my list and scored a 9 as my final grade (on a 0-10 schale).

So, if anything, the Dutch classes gave me a wider scope on literature and led me to read books I otherwise wouldn't have read at all. The classes themselves helped me identify the genres later on, helping me to search more specifically for certain authors which I particularly enjoyed (I have fond memories of the works of Hubert Lampo, for instance).

Oh, and out of the three compulsory titles, two were very interesting indeed. One was a biography of a man who had lived through World War II as the son of a strict Protestant family and ended up in the German army, the other was another story by Hubert Lampo (we had a choice of stories there) so that was an easy pick for me. :o)

Date: 2007-03-31 10:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
That sounds like a very good system - we had X prescribed texts, which I think was something like three a year, which we read in class (usually taking turns to read aloud, which gets painful sometimes. I was usually a few chapters ahead).

It's all part of the great British class-induction scheme, making sure that everyone gets the idea - or the illusion - they can rise up to be the sort of person for whom reading Classics is natural.

Mind you, I don't think that's a bad thing in itself, if you have a decent teacher - they really are there for "people like us" (ie. people), not for some alterity-defined Them.

Date: 2007-03-30 06:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thalassius.livejournal.com
I grew up in an enormously bookish household, and read a great deal, so I'm coming from a similar starting point.

English didn't put me off reading, but it put me off literature for a long time. What follows is a personal take on this, not an objective analysis.

My problem was with the subject itself, as far back as I can remember. I actually loathed (no, not too strong a word) reviewing, analysing and deconstructing books right from the start. If they have power, they lose it. If they have wit, it palls. Such treatment teaches little and matters less.

I simply find literary analysis and criticism a destructive process. It's a picking over and reducing something to its constituent parts, and in the process you lose the whole while gaining nothing. I don't think anyone knows the mental processes (and there are several) by which a great book is written, but it sure as hell isn't the reverse of criticism (except in that the result enhances the sum of humanity's achievements, in which respect it is the reverse of criticism).
If you disassemble a living human into a giant test-tube rack of amino acids, is the knowledge gained worth the loss? And will it teach you yourself how to make a human? Not how to cure or enhance one, but how to make one. Even if you only disassemble as far as body parts, you might know how they fit together, but can you duplicate life itself?

I was lucky, I suppose, to study a lot of two authors I don't miss much (Hardy and Dickens), but English spoiled two Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream). Austen I missed, thankfully, to discover later on (how unusual are men who like Austen, by the way? Do you have any idea).

I can analyse histories or historical documents, looking for bias, hidden agendas, information, but in retrospect, those were never my favourite parts of history, and my move towards archaeology and architecture (reconstruction rather than deconstruction, by and large) is fairly consistent.

Date: 2007-03-31 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
This is an intriguing attitude - it's one I've heard often before, of course, but it still takes me awhile each time to get my head around it.

I'm the reverse, possibly because I'm a fast reader naturally, and almost always re-read things. Except in the sadly-frequent cases where the teacher used to spend hours explaining the patently obvious for the third time, I've never disliked that sort of close reading - it's always given me more and woken my brain up more. And if you have company doing it, it's a positive pleasure to share with enthusiastic people who love the book and have different perspectives from you.

I'm not sure how much school experiences did for me in that regard for later, but A-level English certainly got me stuck on it. I think it's partly down to wanting to interact with the text rather than just consume it. Might also be to do with the small amount of sociology I took - learning to understand people through what they write, the motivations and contexts behind the visible text, and all that.

Which applies to archaeology and architecture too, of course - After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known.

Date: 2007-03-31 06:50 pm (UTC)
ext_3375: Banded Tussock (Default)
From: [identity profile] hairyears.livejournal.com
Books at school are chosen for you because they are good for you; childrens' own choices and observation of what they actually like to read play no part in the process.

That being said, few children 'like' books unless they grow up with books and are read to from an early age. I believe that the majority of British households are entirely free of books.

Date: 2007-03-31 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] keira-online.livejournal.com
At the start of English Lit A-Level we were given a piece of A4 paper and told to write down the books we'd read over the summer....double entries both sides, the teacher seemed pretty impressed.
I did Death of a Salesman (had to compare it with The Great Gatsby), really wish I hadn't. It was a living nightmare for me.

I grew up in a house with books. I'd read anything if it stayed still for long enough. Didn't particularly like english lessons,everyone else was so blasted slow at reading the set texts. I really liked Animal Farm, until we had to do it at school, which promptly killed it for me.
So I guessed I loved (and still do) reading, despite english lessons. It wasn't the teachers I had the problem with, more the other children.

Date: 2007-03-31 11:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mirrorshard.livejournal.com
I can relate to all that!

Date: 2007-03-31 08:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elettaria.livejournal.com
To be honest, my opinion is that anyone who says that school turned them off literature is making an excuse. If you let what the teacher said put you off a book, I'd wonder how much attention you put into reading it yourself. My experience with teacher input ranged from ignoring what they said as it wasn't interesting me, to finding that they were helping me delve further into the text. I enjoyed most of the books I studied at school, and it was always on their own merits. Besides, the books I read from school are only a tiny percentage of the books I got through during the years I was at school. (The moaners about "school turned me off lit" often seem to be the ones who never opened a book unless they were forced to, and not always then either.)

Date: 2007-04-01 08:41 pm (UTC)
owlfish: (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlfish
I never had an English teacher turn me off literature, but I did have an assigned school edition ruin a story for me. Technically, I have read Wuthering Heights. In practice, I have very little memory of it because I found the edition so distracting: two columns per page.

(Only three books a year? I'm sure we must have had 12-15 assigned books per year, but that could have been a product of the kinds of English classes I was in. Also, that was at the A-level equivalent level. Quite probably less before that.)

Date: 2007-04-16 08:34 pm (UTC)
redcountess: (books)
From: [personal profile] redcountess
English didn't turn me off literature, although I was pretty emotionally immature in high school, and there were several books that I did not want to read/finish reading because of the themes, like "All Quiet On The Western Front" (I stopped reading when the horses screamed) and "Zorba The Greek" (because of the Chauvanism). Largely due to this attitude I just scraped through my leaving certificate (the Australian equivalent then of GCSEs), and although I went on to sixth form, I did not finish the year. However, I did love the Shakespeare plays we did (Macbeth, King Lear), "To Kill A Mockingbird", and the elective subject English Literature, where we studied William Blake, The Barrett-Brownings and Emily Dickinson.

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags