Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Books I Read in High School

JoAnn @Lakeside Musing has recently been revisiting her high school texts.
It got me thinking...and discussing with the family about the highlights of our school reading lives.
The tragedy was gradually revealed, though, as B21 and B18 shared not only their lack of inspiring, interesting school texts, but the utter dearth of said texts in the first place.


Mr Books and I, over 30 years after the event, could recall every single book, play and poet that we read for our HSC years, and with a little more effort we could also recall most of the books read throughout years 7 - 10 as well.

Whereas both boys only remembered their meagre list of texts thanks to our prompts.

It seems like the teaching of English no longer stresses, you know, actual reading!
The books selected, according to the boys, were ones that could be read aloud in class, as no-one was expected to actually, you know, read the books by themselves at home.

They also don't remember discussing the books except in terms of purpose and narrative style.
They memorised certain critical phrases and ideas that they then regurgitated in exams, with no idea what any of it meant.
They didn't even have to read the books in question as none of the exam questions or class discussions were actually about, you know, the story.
The book was selected purely as an example of a text type and that's all that mattered for the rest of the course.
The joy of reading and language was completely absent.
Author intent and individual reader experiences were irrelevant.

Neither boy now reads.

Which breaks my heart.

B21 used to be an avid reader, but a combination of getting his first smart phone in the middle of his high school years & the current mode of teaching English stopped all that dead.

B18 always struggled to get into reading.
He just didn't see the point of it.
After constant trying, we finally found that he enjoyed stories like Wonder by R. J. Palacio, but as many of you probably already know, books like Wonder are not very common in the junior fiction market.
Since his high school years, anything to do with reading or books has been anathema for him.
Any need or desire he may have had for stories, magic or imagination he found in movies and getting lost in another's world now happens via games like Fortnight.

Given the amount of joy, comfort and companionship that books and plays and theatre have given both Mr Books and I over the years, we wonder what the boys will turn to during their own future times of need.

Perhaps, we're being old fashioned fuddy-duddy's.
Maybe the wonderful world of new technology, AI and AR will provide our Gen Zedder's with their own kind of joy, comfort and companionship?


I'm also forgetting, that during my school years, our parents were worried about the effects of television on our minds and lives.
Schools had stopped teaching grammar and our parents generation was horrified.
What were we doing to our kids and what did it mean for the future?

Maybe, I am now simply on the other side of the generational divide.
Oh the irony!

I just hope that I live long enough to enjoy watching our Zedder's angst over the educational standards inflicted on their oh so modern kids.

My School Texts

Poets
Andrew Marvell
John Donne
Judith Wright

Novels
Pride and Prejudice
Emma
The Great Gatsby
To Kill A Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies
And Then There Were None

Plays
Major Barbara
Saint Joan
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet
Macbeth


Mr Books

Poets
(A) Judith Wright
John Donne
Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Coleridge

Novels
1984
Grapes of Wrath
Pride and Prejudice
Brave New World 
Swallows and Amazons
To Kill A Mockingbird

Plays
King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Macbeth
Under Milkwood
Streetcar Named Desire
The Importance of Being Ernest
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


B21

Poets
Robert Frost
(A) Peter Skrzynecki

Novels
Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time
Catcher in the Rye
Holes

Plays
(A) Gary's House
Merchant of Venice
Midsummer Night's Dream
(A) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


B18

Poets
Robert Frost

Novels
Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time
(A) Sabriel
(A) The Rabbits by John Marsden & Shaun Tan

Plays
(A) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

He also recalls that early in Yr 7 or 8 he may have watched a TV version of a Shakespeare play.
It may have had fairies in it, but he can't really remember.
And he doesn't care.

#justsaying

12 comments:

  1. Fascinating post! I'm going to ask my girls (now 25 and 28) which high school texts stood out for them... maybe I'll even do a follow-up post myself. It seems like the trend here is toward more excerpts or abridged texts in anthologies, and that's sad.

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    1. I'd be curious to see what your girls say JoAnn. The boys had a lot of 'supporting documents' around their books/poets/plays - things like movies (one did Truman, the other Shawshank Redemption), picture books and excerpts that their teachers gave them. Again, though, it seems like they didn't really bother to read them or understand them, they were just sources to be cited in their memorised essays.

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  2. I just cannot get this out of my head.
    Reading probably the last book Clive James will ever write (..suffers from terminal cancer)
    he praises reading books etc. But the one image that hit me was:
    "Books are anchors left by ships that rot away."
    My interpetation: ...books remain in the mud (our recollection...even from high-school) ) by writers who have passed away (ships that rot). Clive James also pondering his books as the strength ebbs from his limbs.
    I hope B21 en B18 at one point feel the 'spark' of reading that will set them ablaze!
    Great post, Brona.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Nancy.
      I'd like to think that as B21 gets older and faces sleepless nights, stress at work, disappointing relationships and other major changes, that he will, by necessity rediscover his childhood love of reading and getting lost in a good book. I do worry where B18 will find that solace when he needs it though. Fortnite has a social community network, and is a way the youth of today :-) keep in touch with other, talk about their day as they take out the latest target....but it's also highly addictive and I don't see it providing an 'anchor'. It will be one of the things that eventually rots away to be replaced by the next new thing.

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  3. It's sad that they don't place so much emphasis on reading, but I wonder if our memories are influenced by us being avid readers anyway. I'd always read the set texts by about three week into term, and loved discussing them. My best pal, however, never read any of them and passed her exams (well) on the basis of classroom discussions. When she graduated University (English and Drama) she claimed she had never read a novel other than Paddington Bear, and while that might have been a slight exaggeration it wasn't much of one. I however read every text and loads of the authors' other books too. The irony is she went on to become a successful screenwriter and author, and I turned into a finance bod...

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    1. Yes, I was a reader and so was Mr Books at the time, although to a lesser degree. I didn't really like studying poetry at school and railed against it, but have come to appreciate it. Theatre was the big thing for me though. In our final years we travelled to Sydney several times to see productions of the books and plays we were studying and i will always be grateful for those high school texts opening up that world to me.

      When I was 16 only about a third of my cohort actually went onto the final two years of school. The final two years were academic years for those who wanted an academic future of some kind. Everyone else left school at 16 to go to technical college, get apprenticeships or work in retail (or have babies)! But now we expect everyone to stay at school until 17 and getting the HSC is almost mandatory. It's only natural that the courses taught in these final two years had to change to reflect the much wider range of skills and abilities and interests. But to turn English into something that doesn't require reading books seems counter-intuitive.

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  4. Fun post! It set me to thinking about what I read in high school as well. I wonder if there's a difference between boys and girls at that age--girls both read more in general, and also tend to be better students at that age.

    And, of course, there's the difference between what's assigned and what actually gets read...I was a diligent (or party-pooping, pick your adjective) student in high school, and even I didn't finish Moby Dick until twenty years later. And I'm certain some of my fellow students read fewer of the books than I did.

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    Replies
    1. That makes me smile - I was also diligent (in Australia that was also called being a goody-two-shoes or a conscie-swat!)
      I not only read the assigned chapters in my history texts, I read the entire book (which included a memorable trek all the way through Mein Kampf in Yr 9 much to my history teachers amazement. He wasn't sure whether to be impressed or concerned).

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    2. Impressed and concerned!

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  5. I've always considered myself a reader but I can only remember 2 or 3 books from my school years. I do remember that my reading began in earnest at about age 18. I didn't do any Shakespeare at school & started reading his plays only when my own children started them.

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  6. The only books I remember reading in junior and senior high school were: Old Man and the Sea, The Good Earth, and The Great Gatsby, Midsummer Night's Dream. I must have read more but I am drawing a blank on them.

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  7. I remember a lot from my high school years but the standouts from the last couple of years were Patrick White's Voss, Thomas Hardy's Tess, Lawrence's Sons and lovers, and Jane Austen's Emma. Plays were King Lear, Othello, Hamet (we did Macbeth in year 10 - or 4th Form as it was then), Miller's The crucible and Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral (though that may have been 4th Form too.) Poets included TS Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, plus Donne, the Romantic Poets, and others, but these are the ones I most remember. I fell in love with Eliot and Hopkins in particular. I did Camus in French.

    I was very disappointed in what my kids were offered by comparison.

    ReplyDelete

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