{DISCUSSION} English Education

Should we revise how English is taught?

I don’t know about you guys, but I grew up in an area that’s well know for its education. Something like… 98% of graduates from my high school went on to college and, if parents were given the option to send their child to a different school in the area, they ended up in my school. And yet, I can’t honestly say that it was the best education in the world. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good education. It was! But I can’t deny that the structure of English classes killed my desire to read.

Now, I wasn’t a big reader to begin with. When I was young, I was more interested in running around outside and making friends than reading, and it wasn’t until I was well out of high school that I realized how much I actually enjoy reading. And my education in middle and high school didn’t help with that. The structure for these classes was simple:

“what book is severely outdated and uninteresting to children of the modern age? That one? Great! Now, let’s pair them off with the students they don’t get along with and force them to discuss why the author made character B’s shirt blue.”

The sad part is, I wish I was kidding. This actually was the way education was set up for middle and high school English classes where I come from. Sometimes we’d have a choice of four pre-selected, teacher-approved books: enough for a group of five students per book. By some miracle, some of those books sounded less boring than others and therefore were popular. Unfortunately, if you’re that unlucky kid (or disliked by teacher, as I often was), you get kicked to the bottom of your ‘wishlist’ for books. In other words, you get stuck with the most boring of the four book options and then you’re forced to read it and discuss it with the other kids in the class that the teacher dislikes.

Or perhaps there’s just one book that the entire class has to read because it’s considered ‘classic’ like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm‘. A little grotesque for pre-teens don’t you think? Or perhaps Anthony Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’. No, that book couldn’t possibly be inappropriate or scarring for young people. Or maybe Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World‘. (All of which I read in middle school, thank you.) And why not? These all seem like appropriate literature for pre-high school young minds, don’t you think? (sarcasm)

Even if the books we got to read had been remotely interesting to a young teenager, the way the teachers approached reading and discussing was the worst way possible. Everything in the book had a ‘reason’. Every word and phrase had a ‘secret meaning’. Every color, foreshadowing, scene had something that was meant to be deciphered by the reader. So, when it came right down to it: we weren’t even reading the books. We were translating them. (Even though they were already written in English.)

Honestly, looking back on my grade school education for English, it’s a miracle I want to write or read ever again. Yet, somehow, on my own, after being choked on endless question sheets for books, I managed to find good books that draw me in and keep my attention all the way through. Oddly enough, my favorite genre happens to be dystopians, which were the exact things I detested in grade school. That, ladies and gentleman, is what we call irony.

But enough about me, what about you? What was your English education like in school? Did it make you love or hate reading and, if it made you hate it, how did you find your love for reading later in life? Leave me your experiences in the comments below! I hope to hear from you! ^.^


And check out my discussion from last week:
Skin Color Portrayal in YA

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12 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} English Education

  1. I had a different experience in Australia. In primary school it was all “choose your own reader” stuff and there were different coloured dots for different reading levels divided into school grades. I was reading the highest-level stuff by the middle of primary. In high school, we had at least one class text a semester, increasing as we moved higher up. Sometimes that text was a movie. We then did wide reading assignments and stuff where we chose our own book to report on from the library around a particular theme (e.g. 1870s Sydney). I was a bit of a teacher’s pet tbh because they could see how much I liked reading and talking about that. I was a precocious child. Anyway, we read a mix of recently-published books and classics. Two of my favourites were To Kill A Mockingbird and Twelve Angry Men.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh. I remember being able to choose my books in elementary school (K-5th grade), but I feel that is more a time to focus on getting children up to an appropriate reading age. After that it’s all about ‘culturing’ students or something.

      I, too, have read To Kill a Mocking Bird, but I wasn’t really a big fan. Granted, it was historical and I’ve always been bad at history so most of what was going on in the book was kind of lost on me historically. :/

      There definitely seems to be a divide in this conversation: the people who liked to read from an early age and the people who didn’t. Yet, somehow we all ended up here. :p

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s funny because I see the reasoning behind some of it, but it definitely needs an update. A little story from me. I was in… 9th grade. A teacher of mine was also my neighbor so he was giving me a ride home after school this day. I was wandering around the upstairs of my high school when I came across our monotoned English teacher (who was the only teacher I had that was a doctor before college).

    We were reading Animal Farm (correction, he was reading us Animal Farm in a monotone voice that absolutely killed the story). I ended up reading ahead because I thought the story was interesting and different than the middle school stuff we were forced to read. So, that day I wandered into his classroom because I wanted to tell him that I was enjoying Animal Farm. He ended up suggesting 1984 to me after I told him the parts that I enjoyed. He then said to come in after class after I finished it to talk with him about it.

    I went to the library and read 1984 in only a few days, and I went to talk to him. We chatted about what I liked and didn’t like, and the reasoning behind why we thought that Orwell wrote it the way that he did.

    I can say that one of the worst reading experiences (listening to him read Animal Farm) ended up turning me on to reading more than anything else in my life. From that moment on, I was hooked. So, sometimes it takes a bad book to make you realize how much you love a good book.

    But, I think that there are a ton of new and modern YA books that would be much more relatable to the digital age kids that are in middle and high school English classes now. And I think it’ll be people our age that are teaching that will be the change to that old school way of thinking.

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    1. Because of your story I wonder if that’s an odd case. I don’t mean that in a bad way because I can understand what you’re saying. I, too, love good books because of many of the bad books I’ve read over the years, but I wouldn’t say a bad book would necessarily spur me to find a good book. Not to mention, it seems that you did still like Animal Farm despite the way the teacher read it. So, can that really be considered a bad book to you?

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  3. I agree. Most of the books I read in grade school all the way to high school didn’t engage me the way the books I read on my free-time did. I was the kid that refused to read books that didn’t interest me and due to that they – my teachers – believed I had a learning impairment. They stuck with with a group of other kids that read at a lower level, giving us books that were grades below where they believed we were at. They didn’t test to find out that I was actually reading at a grade 11 level and the reason I wasn’t reading was due to the lack of being challenged by the books they wanted me to read. I got tired of reading in a circle and at a lower level so one day I brought my book Valley of the Horses (600 pages) to school. They realized that I didn’t deserve to be in the IEP group anymore and left me alone.

    When it comes to teaching English we have followed the same flawed methods time and time again. We teach only the necessary and don’t teach that there can be joy in learning English. We force kids to read books who may not be challenged or find interest in the books we assign. The English courses need to be changed but heck – the whole Education system needs a whole new way of approaching kids. These are struggles some teachers try to fix but sadly they have to follow a checklist to make sure certain things are covered, and very few are able to stray into making new changes to a broken system. I wish that when I was a student I had a teacher that fostered my passion for reading and saw that what I was forced to read wasn’t challenging enough to keep me interested. I wish when I was a student I had teachers who were willing to guide me instead of taking away my books or notebooks that showed me that English wasn’t seen as equals against science and math.

    We have a flawed system but unfortunately those that want to make a difference have a very hard time fighting against those that put it in place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m pretty sure that for quite a long time my reading level was below average, but I didn’t really start reading until I was in like… 3rd grade. So, I was behind and I’m not sure I ever caught up (though, I’m pretty sure I have a larger vocabulary and comprehension level than most people my age nowadays, but that’s not attributed to school in the slightest. That’s all me.)

      Oh! I was the kid who refused to read books, too, but… I wasn’t put in a lower level (not sure we had one for English.) Rather, I was just told I would fail the class. -.- That was enough for young me to at least pretend to read the book and participate in discussions. Though, I kind of wish I’d been more of a rebel and told the teacher to shove it and give us books that were interesting. Sorry, but I don’t enjoy reading Edgar Allen Poe in 8th grade. (Still not a huge fan, honestly.)

      Mm. Too many teachers have no alternatives and end up falling into the routine like their more experienced, less optimistic counterparts. Yet, I really don’t understand taking away a student’s book while in class. I mean… unless they’re doing poorly in class, why would you ever discourage them from broadening their mind with a book?! It’s just baffling!

      In high school, my passion for writing really developed and I would constantly write stories, even took a creative writing class, but… it wasn’t encouraged. It was destroyed. It was underminded. And we focused more on the mechanics of writing than style or plot. It’s no wonder I didn’t take writing novels seriously until I was in college.

      And I completely agree. The entire educational system needs an overhaul. We need to stop doing standardized testing and demanding students meet quotas or certain scores because that only tests one, maybe two, types of intelligence when there are dozens of types. If only there were a way to make that happen, but I fear (america, at least) will soon be regressing into the uneducated rather than the better educated.

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      1. The issue with my school was they considered English part of the creative education and not part of the academic education requirements. So, people who liked English were discouraged from taking the specality courses in English like creative writing or literary theory because they weren’t considered academic like Math or Science. I also ran into the issue of whenever I did take the required academic English courses they focused mostly on thesis writing and technical writing. They never touched upon poetry much or creative writing. There was a lot of analysis and critical thinking and not a lot of creative freedom. Unless you were in applied/college level or workplace level courses… but I was in academic/ university courses so there was no room for creative expression…
        I think that might be why I rebelled with writing creatively in all my classes and honestly if I didn’t I wouldn’t have survived high school…

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