History is Not Boring discussion

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Books high schoolers a forced to read.

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message 1: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Too often kids are pushed into reading things before they're mature enough to appreciate them. If you can't appreciate it at some level, why bother? It just communicates that books can be bad. I'm glad I had a love of reading well before high school or I wouldn't read except when forced. John Steinbeck was ruined for me by being forced to read The Red Pony 3 times. I was in my 40's before I ever read anything else by him & then I thoroughly enjoyed several of his books.

I loved reading SF & then took a 'course' in it. I've never read such dreadful books before or since. I think the teacher hated the genre & wanted to instill that in his students. I took a course in Shakespeare & loved it. The teacher made all the difference. He picked plays we could all appreciate, made sure we had editions with built-in cheat sheets & discussed the plots in real world terms. 'Romeo & Julliet' versus 'West Side Story'.

As far as Lord of the Flies goes, I liked it & was glad to read it as a teenager, but I was a young savage & could appreciate it. The girls all hated it. I didn't appreciate The Scarlet Letter on any level while some of the girls had a blast with it. Hmmm... Seems there's a moral in there. Maybe the book should fit the audience a little better.

I'm all for getting kids to just read. Content can come later. That's the way I raised my kids. All of them are big readers now. Two of them are on here.


message 2: by Shirley (new)

Shirley (discipleshirley) | 113 comments My youngest daughter has ADD and hated to read. One day when she was in 4th grade she picked up a book that I was reading called Oh Kentucky by Betty Recieveur, a history of early Ky. She loved it! Now in her 20s she is reads a book a day and sits down with her baby and reads to her. My point I guess is they need to like to read before they can get into discussing the pros and cons of a book.


message 3: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Ditto with Stienbeck and the Red Pony in school. Im in my 40s and I still cant get into him, even though I live in Steinbeck Central......the Monterey Peninsula.

I remember I liked Lord of the Flies and I even learned to appreciate The Scarlett Letter.

I had a terrific teacher who introduced me to the wonderful world of Shakespeare. Ive heard of other students who had a horrible time with Shakespeare. I guess it just depends on how good your teacher inspires his students.

The one book I absolutely LOATHED with a passion in high school was "A Seperate Peace" by John Knowles. We were forced to read this piece of crap during my sophomore year.
Story about two spoiled brats going to prep school during WWII. I couldnt wait for this mind numbing book to end. When one of the kids dies, I was actually GLAD.




message 4: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments My son didn't learn to enjoy reading until a teacher exposed him to "The Hobbit." I can't imagine what it was that he found so engaging, but he did; that's what was important. "Wait, Dad; I want to finish this chapter," he'd beg. "Uh, sure, Son. It can wait." It was great.

My geek/genius daughter now almost never reads. What is that? I think it has to do with not finding something that grabs her imagination.


message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Will, it's funny but my geek son (now a self taught, head network engineer for an ISP) never read much fiction. He devoured text books, manuals & biographies/histories of science & scientists, though. He'll occasionally read SF. The rest of us all read tons of fiction.


message 6: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Manuel, if you like Authurian legends, Steinbeck did a very readable translation of them. I also found his WWII novel, "The Moon Also Rises" very good.

I was in an Eastern Prep school, as a boarding scholarship student. We read "A Separate Peace". I really liked it, probably because I could identify with it so much. It inspired some wonderful pranks, too. I was very sorry when Phineas died. I really liked him. Reminded me of my cousin.

I agree with you on the Shakespeare. My roommate had it with another teacher & detested it while I went on to read quite a bit more on my own.


message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Shirley, my daughter has dyslexia & a learning recall disorder. She was in special ed for reading until I read the first Harry Potter book & was really enthusiastic about it. In two years, she was out of special ed, having read the 4th book, to everyone's amazement. Rowlings has my gratitude for that. Now she loves reading & is here on GR.


message 8: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
I didn't enjoy The Red Pony, either - I had it assigned 3 times, too!

But what was worse was The Pearl, also by Steinbeck. Bleah.

It's a good thing my mother had already introduced me to Steinbeck, because the Steinbeck I read in school was horrible. She started me on The Pastures of Heaven - by the time I got assigned Steinbeck I was reading Cannery Row, which is fabulous.

Unfortunately for George Eliot, my first exposure to her was the inevitable Silas Marner. The cruel and unusual punishment was that we had to diagram sentences from it. Ahhhhhhh!

I'm still afraid of George Eliot. Adam Bede sits on Mt. TBR, taunting me.


message 9: by James (new)

James I loved to read then as much as I do now, but didn't appreciate some of the books we were assigned - now I feel differently about some, not about others.
We didn't read Lord of the Flies, but we saw the film (the original version) and it had a powerful impact on me (I thought the band of boys who "went barbarian" reminded me an awful lot of many of the jocks on our school's football and wrestling teams... a bunch of junior thugs). I didn't like Crime and Punishment and still don't - reading it was like chewing sawdust. On the other hand, Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor didn't do much for me then, despite my already being fascinated with the Civil War, but has grown on me.


message 10: by Shirley (new)

Shirley (discipleshirley) | 113 comments Yes Jim, that is what matters!

Will, I also have a genius elder daughter that doesn't read. She does read the bible and research her lessons in Sunday school though. I think she is more into articles. She says the things she has to read to keep up her continuing education units burn her out on reading for fun.


message 11: by George (new)

George | 179 comments Silas Marner. Plus, when I changed school systems, I had to read it twice.


message 12: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
George wrote: "Silas Marner. Plus, when I changed school systems, I had to read it twice. "

Ewww!


message 13: by George (new)

George | 179 comments Ewww, indeed. I've never entirely recovered. You can be sure I never read it again.


message 14: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I've been thinking I should try to read "The Red Pony" again. It's not a masochistic impulse, just a reality check. I think the last time I was assigned it & didn't read it, it was just attitude. I was a fairly horrible teenager.

I wonder if my tastes have changed enough that I would like it? It's been over 30 years. I still don't like cow liver or brussell sprouts though...

Shirley, my daughter is reading less fun stuff since she's been in college. Never enough time. Hopefully she'll get into it. I go through periods like that too. A new OS, application or something comes out & I start bringing home work to read.


message 15: by Jessica (new)

Jessica (jessbowen) As a teacher, I'm finding this thread very interesting! I assigned Things Fall Apart as summer reading for my Word History students. I absolutely love the novel and I think it's such a great discussion starter about African colonial history. Then one day, I was lounging at the town pool and I overheard two parents complaining about getting to their kids to do their summer reading and they were talking about my assignment! Oh well, my intentions were good. It's at least a better read than Heart of Darkness which I had to read and which was an awful slog.

I agree that The Pearl was awful - is there a more contrived plot ever? I hated reading Ibsen - had to do two of his plays and compare them. To be fair, I loved My Antonia by Willa Cather and enjoyed The Scarlet Letter.


message 16: by Shirley (new)

Shirley (discipleshirley) | 113 comments I enjoyed the Scarlet Letter and lets face it, the Hunchback of Notre D.....Tale of Two Cities, were two I remember liking...school was so long ago we rode dinosaurs.............lol


message 17: by James (new)

James The saddest book we read was the Diary of Anne Frank, but I'm glad we did.


message 18: by James (new)

James Nevius | 157 comments Kelley mentioned The Catcher in the Rye, a book I haven't read since I was 15. I didn't like it then -- I agree with the slapping -- but wonder what it would be like now that close to 25 years have gone by. I should go get a 5-cent copy from the local thrift bookstore.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

When I read the classics, such as Tale of two cities, Les Miserables, etc. I had read them as a little girl, but in comic book format. I enjoyed them then, and now I'm reading them again in school (the real versions lol) and I really appriciate them even more, now that I can understand the poetry of the novel.


message 20: by Manuel (last edited Jan 17, 2009 10:45AM) (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Most of the books I read in high school, I learned to appreciate later in life, even though I didnt always enjoy reading them during my student days. "Billy Bud" was really hard to get into, but I began to see Melville's meaning when I became an adult.

Recently I reread "A Separate Peace" to give it a second chance, I still loathed it today just as much as I did in 1979. I also went to an elitist high school, but I didnt find the characters sympathetic at all.

Still not sure if I ever want to read Steinbeck again. I would rather enjoy "East of Eden" as a movie with James Dean.


message 21: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) There should be a special place in heaven & awards given out to the authors & teachers that get kids to love to read. They're too precious.

What really got me interested in reading were the lurid covers, done by Frank Frazetta, on the covers of my Dad's Conan books. A barbarian standing on hill of dead warriors with a monster about to bite one leg while a voluptous, scantily clad woman clung to the other. For a young boy, that was just too interesting to pass up. I HAD to find out what the story was!

Tolkien came soon after & a wonderful pair of teachers helped us do a play of the Hobbit in 6th grade. I'll never forget those two; Mrs. Rowe & Mrs. Bilgrave. They confirmed that fantasy was literature for me.


message 22: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Marco
Do you ever feel like reading the whole book?
Im shocked you would only read one or two chapters, how can you possibly digest very much of the meaning or structure of the stories with only a representative sample?


message 23: by James (new)

James Reading just an excerpt from a book drives me nuts if it's interesting - I almost always end up getting the book so I can read the rest of it.


message 24: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
I remember actually getting in trouble for reading the unabridged Great Expectations, "because it isn't what the rest of the class is reading."

Mrs. Carter and I had "issues."


message 25: by James (new)

James I lost count of the times I got so bored with how slowly people were reading in school when we were taking turns reading aloud, and found myself reading ahead - then when I was called on, I had always lost my place and didn't even know what page the rest of the class was on.


message 26: by Stacie (new)

Stacie Heyen (sheyen) | 2 comments I never got into trouble for bringing in the unabridged versions, my teacher liked it that my parents kept me in books, lol. Of course it helped that my mom and my 11th grade teacher were friends. Matter of fact when I moved to the *big city* she wrote me a recommendation to a college. But anyway, I think the one book I hated the most was Lord of the Flies.......I still cant even stand the thought of that book.
But yeah, I would read ahead of the class, matter of fact my 10th grade teacher would just hand me a stack of books......and then would have me go sit out in the hallway with one of the slower readers, and he would read aloud, and I would help him. Because I was always about two or three books ahead of the class.


message 27: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I didnt love Lord of the Flies, but I remember I enjoyed reading it.

Is it an overstatement to say that this book has a gender appeal to boys as opposed to girls? It seems to me almost every woman Ive spoken to about this book hates it.

I remember we saw the movie in class. I thought the opening credits were interesting because they alluded to something horrible happening in England, Perhaps WWIII? the Kids were being evacuated to safety


message 28: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 14 comments I've always loved reading,and read many classics just for fun, from probablyabout sixth grade on, but there were still some books that I probably should not have had to read when I read them.

Wuthering Heights in sixth grade. I spent most of my time being annoyed with Heathcliff and Cathy and got to the end of the book with a "that's it?" feeling

Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men in sixth or seventh grade -- so was not ready for either

The Last of the Mohicans in sixth grade -- it was so long and dull to me then

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ I recall being bored with in sixth/seventh grade too - nothing like the movie

and oddly enough, I was not ready for a Day no pigs would die -- I remember our class a whole clearly had missed the point of the book!

I was fine with Lord of the Flies which I think I had to read about three times between 6th and 12th grade

Emma was fine in 9th grade as was Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations all for my English class

Odyssey and Illiad were fine, if a trifle long -- I might have read condscened versions, as I recall I read that around 6th/7th grade, but I had grown up with Edith Hamilton's Mythology so it was not new, per se






message 29: by Jim (new)

Jim I think reading a book a kid doesn't like for whatever reason is not the worst thing in the world as long as the material has some relevance to kids lives, their cultural or historical heritage, literary merit or results in their understanding of other cultures/times and as long as the teacher can show that relevance to the readers.

As far as being mature enough for some books, I read THE RISE AND FALL IF THE THIRD REICH between 8th and 9th grade and wasn't all that mature but was blown away about what the Nazis did to other human beings and how the rest of the world failed or didn't want to see from the rise of the Nazis through their demise what they were doing.
Great history or literature can reach even an immature teenager who today are a lot more aware than I was growing up in the 50s and 60s.


message 30: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Jim, I'll tentatively agree that kids can stand a push, but there's plenty out there to read that don't make kids want to give up reading over.

In the case of "The Red Pony" I was subjected to it 3 times & don't know that I've ever met anyone besides an English teacher who thought it was a great book, suited for kids or the only representative of Steinbeck's work for young adults.

I need some connection to a book for it to stick with me or mean something. I never felt that connection with "The Red Pony" although I lived on a farm & had one of my own. Steinbeck just left me cold.

Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Big Red, Misty of Chincoteague or Black Beauty were all animal books that I liked a lot before & after reading "The Red Pony". I recall telling teachers this. They didn't care. Steinbech was 'good literature' by an American author & on their list.

Never seemed like a good enough reason to me.


message 31: by Jim (new)

Jim I don't disagree that a book can be pushed too hard but I just don't see how 1 book or a few books that may not appeal to a high schooler will lead to a non-reader

a high school student is a reader or nonreader before they get to high school in all likelihood.

I must confess I don't want to read THE SCARLETT LETTER for some reason unknownn to me - how can I know whether it has any relevance/literary merit without reading it.
Also I think that sometimes doing something You don't want to do can be good for any individual

I can't see where my 13 yr old is doing very many things she doesn't want to do and maybe it might give her some insight into how terrible it must be to really have to do some really onerous things that many people in the world have to do daily




message 32: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) Yeah, there's a lot I have to read that I don't want to. If there is anything more boring than a text on the 'improvements' in Windows 7, it can only be rivaled by some other computer document. I guess you have a point, but I still think teachers need to get kids to love to read first. Quality needs to come a distant second, especially since it is so subjective.

It's unfortunate that so many people don't have a love of reading instilled in them from an early age. It is one of the least expensive, most enjoyable pastimes, besides sex. You can do it longer, too! ;-)


message 33: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
I can see why they want to teach Steinbeck, but really, The Red Pony and The Pearl are not the only short stories he wrote.

I think they would be better off with something from The Pastures of Heaven, there are some nice ones in there. I read it at that age and loved it.


message 34: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I am embarrassed to admit, it never occurred to me, that other people might be forced to read Steinbeck because their teachers thought it was great literature.

For me, I always took it for granted we had to read Steinbeck only or mainly because he was our "local writer."
Everywhere you go here in Monterey/Salinas you are reminded about Steinbeck, Steinbeck, Steinbeck


message 35: by Shirley (new)

Shirley (discipleshirley) | 113 comments yes Jim, Old Yeller, where the Red Fern grows and Misty were starters for me and my older girls. The books by Jesse Stuart ie: The Beatinest boy, Red Mule, A Penny's worth of character, The original Box car children. I loved those little red and white Important American biographies, cant remember what the series was called. There are no more in our public library.
Taking kids to the library and participating in story hour at an early age helps for a love of reading...participation in the library classes such as art, drama helps too.


message 36: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I don't recognize the American biographies or the Stuart books, Shirley.

I will agree with the kids, story hour & the library. Besides having our own small library, we spent a lot of time with the kids at the local branch. They were signed for every read-a-thon & such, even when they were teenagers.

I'm a rotten story teller & recall hooking the kids on a couple of books because of it. On a long trip, I'd tell them part of a book, goof it up some & get teased for it. Then I wouldn't finish it. They'd have to read the book & were eager to.



message 37: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
I had the biographies of famous Americans for younger readers - I think you're right about the red covers.


message 38: by James (new)

James Nevius | 157 comments Jim,

The Scarlet Letter, though overly didactic, has many rewards for the adult reader. I recommend you give it a try sometime. It's not a lengthy read.




message 39: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) James wrote: "Jim,

The Scarlet Letter, though overly didactic, has many rewards..."


Try the audiobook version while driving. That's the way I made it through it. It was worth listening to, but I couldn't read it either. It's a sure cure for insomnia. I found an audiobook was the only way I could get through the 'Autobiography of Ben Franklin', too.



message 40: by Shirley (new)

Shirley (discipleshirley) | 113 comments I think too people forget that each individual learns differently, some by doing, hearing or reading. Even though I love to read, I learn best by hearing the lecture first, then going back and reading the material. So it depends. Reading to learn reading skills should be a different matter, wise teachers find other ways to hook kids on math, science, history etc. (Maybe shorter sections to read and a short 'what this section is about' might be a easier way for a non reader to go)


message 41: by Liz (new)

Liz (vorlizzie) | 1 comments Kelley, I had a similar text book. I remember reading portions of "Flowers for Algernon" and really not getting it because there were only a few excerpts in there. On the bright side, it meant that I actually got the book out of the library and read it myself.

I hated Scarlet Letter and Where the Red Fern Grows, but I had some pretty bad English teachers (and yes, I was the kid who got in trouble for reading ahead too). I was still enamored with reading, though, primarily because of my mother who had a) a good grasp of what literature I would appreciate and b) no problem picking me up from the library when I took out so many books that I could not see where I was going.

I guess my biggest problem with the books we were assigned was that no one bothered making my class enjoy reading before trying to make us appreciate literature. So many people I know decided that reading was pointless because they never learned that reading is worth the time. I think jr. high is still too young to be asking kids to "appreciate literature" and more time should be spent helping them find what books interest them.


message 42: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra (alexandrans) | 6 comments I'm a high schooler, taking American Literature, and I must say, I really haven't enjoyed any of the books we've had to read so far. Don't get me wrong, I love reading, it's one of my favorite pastimes and always has been, but when forced to read books about topics that just don't interest me...
Well, how can anyone enjoy that?

I was bored to tears reading The Scarlet Letter. Uncle Tom's Cabin was somewhat more interesting, but rather depressing if you ask me. And Huck Finn is just too simple for my taste. I mean, I know it has a deeper symbolism, which I do take the time to examine, but if the writing is to simplistic, I just can't enjoy any of it. And this is when I've got the best English teacher I've ever had. Don't get me started on some of the others.

The only books that I had to read in school that I ever really enjoyed, were the books that I had read before we read them in school. We've been forced since the fifth grade to do these in depth analyses of the literature we were reading, the symbolism in the stories, etc., and never were given a chance to just enjoy reading them. Once I've read through a book once, and know the story, then I wouldn't mind so much going back and studying it, but until then, it just takes the fun out of it.

For me, although I would like the system of the English class changed somehow, I know that isn't likely with the time constraints of school and homework time. I just feel so bad for the others in class with me, who can't stand reading, because they've never been allowed to enjoy it. I, who could read for years before starting kindergarten liked it from such a young age that I suppose even school couldn't take it out of me. I just can't seem to get others who learned later, from teachers rather than parents, to like reading, and see it as a hobby, rather than as something forced, a punishment of sorts.




message 43: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Hey Alex,
You raised some great points about those books we are supposed to read in high school.

Many of the books I hated as a teenager, Ive learned to appreciate as an adult.
I suspect that might happen to you too

For me, my biggest regret is never having asked some of my teachers why we had to read certain books? I dont mean I wish I had challenged them, but I would really have loved to know WHAT we were supposed to get from reading some mind numbing stuff?

I love reading, but when you are in high school, you are supposed to digest an x number of books. It would have been nice to have had some input in making a choice.





message 44: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra (alexandrans) | 6 comments Manuel,
You're right, I do wonder what the point of reading some of these seemingly outdated books are. We learn a lot about how the stuff written was related to the culture, government, etc. of the time period, but not to us today.

Some of my peers would, if given the choice, not read anything in school, but I would. I would just appreciate some choice in the matter like you said (as far as what to read is concerned), or at the very least be given some reason why we're reading what we are, so that I know that there is a reason. I know there was at some point, but sometimes I wonder if it's just been forgotten.

The one good thing about it is that I'm being forced to read stuff that's out of my comfort zone, that I wouldn't otherwise think to pick up. I don't enjoy many of the novels, but at least now I can say that I read them. And that when the classics are being discussed, I actually know what I'm talking about and can join in.


message 45: by George (new)

George | 179 comments Well,I think the point is all too often that these particular books don't offend anyone and aren't especially controversial. it's another form of the least common denominator.


message 46: by Will (last edited Jan 26, 2009 07:29AM) (new)

Will (oldbosun) | 21 comments I live just a hop and skip away from the courthouse where the Scopes Monkey Trial was held and the message, "Don't offend and don't be controversial" is still in evidence in public education.

Another point (which nobody seems to have raised) is cost: the books chosen are also the least costly. The same old chestnuts have paid for themselves many times over, there are skids upon skids of them waiting for distribution (printing costs have been paid many times over) and they represent pure profit for the distributor - who will push them as (a) discounted and (b) the "same good books you read when you were in school." Believe me, it does make a difference to cash-strapped school districts.

On the good side, when Bill Shakespeare was au currant, he gave us the phrasing and the substance of things said, which gave silent, unwitting witness to the means and manners of the day. Same goes for Silas Marner, anything by Steinbeck (who didn't feel the Depression after reading The Grapes of Wrath?) or any of the other "classics," some of which stink as literature, but many of which are remarkable historical commentaries.

Perhaps, after all, it is the teacher's take on it that makes a difference.


message 47: by Will (new)

Will Kester | 1047 comments While there is legitimate reason to criticize making kids read books they don't enjoy, there is a good argument to be made for creating a common literacy quotient. If we all read different books, we lose the ability to use literary references. Just a thought.


message 48: by Jim (new)

Jim My question is who should decide what books are required to be read in high school and the criteria used for the selections?


message 49: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I think parents should have more say & we do sometimes. Mostly, we have to speak out & not just to the teacher, but to the PTA, county & other officials. Popular support also helps by letters to the editor.

Students need to get involved as well. In one of my schools, a bunch of us got together & petitioned for a SF English class. The books were a split decision with us gettng to submit a list with a ton of justification. The others were picked by staff.


message 50: by Aimee (new)

Aimee | 36 comments What I would like to complain about is what they DON'T have to read. My son just started an honors reading class, and yes it is only four week into it, but they have yet to pick up an actual book. The teacher has them reading only paragraphs and articals and answering questions about them. In an honors reading class???? Does any one else see this as asking too little of our children. You can bet I am on my way to have a discussion with that teacher.


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