Problems with English Class: 2

Too much time is spent on long novels. Assigning a few novels is fine. But if an important goal is to help student write better, short stories and essays can serve just as well. I got nothing out of the tedious Great Expectations; my parents complained, years later, about having to read Moby Dick; one of my daughters was frustrated by A Wizard of Earthsea.

This is Newmark’s Door’s second problem with English class.

For this I would say that I don’t, in general, assign long novels. I’ve never liked literature that was required and sometimes that meant I couldn’t understand it, even when I knew what all the words meant. In almost all circumstances that I can control I pick a shorter book over a longer one, if both of them are classic literature.

The only time I don’t do that is when I have the option to pick a literary classic that isn’t depressing. When I had the opportunity to teach Gulliver’s Travels or Great Expectations, I took Gulliver’s Travels. It ends in a rather odd state, with the main character rejecting his family and living in the stable with his horses, but the book has some quite fun things. Gulliver pees on the palace, to save it from fire. He gets grossed out by being dressed up by ladies. He refuses to conquer a country for another. I like it.

But when the powers that be took my option for any happy books out, I took one of the short ones instead. In fact, I added a really short one back in. In my freshman class, the second semester, which is specifically “Writing about Literature,” we read Frankenstein and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

So I mostly agree with Newmark’s point on long books. Why read a long one if a short one will do?

If you love the short ones, you’ll graduate to the long ones later- or not. But at least you’ll have been exposed to good literature in a more palatable way.

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