I noticed an interesting article in the Washington Post a few years ago. It made me wonder if they hate literary analysis as much as I do.
Here is what the author, Nancy Schnog, says:
"I'll never forget what one parent, bemoaning his daughter's aversion to great books after she took AP English Literature, wrote to me: "What I've seen teachers do is take living, breathing works of art and transform them into desiccated lab specimens fit for dissection."
As someone who teaches in private schools, I find this especially painful to acknowledge. I haven't been constrained in my teaching methods by Standards of Learning or No Child Left Behind testing. But even where teachers are free to design their own "best practices," I've been amazed at the chasm between their sense of purpose in their curricular choices and teens' sense that what they choose for them is irrelevant. Ironically, kids' turn-off to books can originate in teachers' hopes of turning them on."
Hmmmmm. I think I'll stick with my guns, and say again that it's the love of reading that matters. The author's conclusion is that you shouldn't beat kids up with literary analysis, and you should encourage them to read books they love.
"If that means an end to business as usual -- abolishing dry-bones literature tests, cutting back on fact-based quizzes, adding works of science fiction or popular nonfiction to the reading list -- so be it. We can continue to alienate teen readers, or we can hear them, acknowledge their tastes, engage directly with their resistance to serious reading and move gradually, with sensitivity to what's age-appropriate, toward the realm of great literature."
I admire homeschoolers who cover literary analysis, but I simply wasn't capable. I know it seems odd that someone who is such a fan of literature-based curriculum should say this. I primarily used Sonlight, and later The Well-Trained Mind. Sonlight was the easiest to use, but after a while we had read most of the books, so I switched to The Well-Trained Mind reading lists and other reading lists for the college bound and tried to tie in the reading with history. We didn't do any literary analysis, we simply enjoyed books.
The truth is, I always felt guilty about not doing literary analysis. I decided early on that my goal in teaching the Bible was for the kids to love their Bible. So I finally decided that my goal for literature would be the same – teaching them to love literature. I didn’t want to beat the love of books out of them by making them analyze everything.
Keeping the focus on the love of learning is difficult, though, when you are faced with a kid who may only answer “fine” when you ask them about their reading.
How do you know when you have succeeded at teaching your child English? When I was homeschooling, I was so stressed out about literary analysis. It seemed as if we always failed at reading comprehension and review questions. I knew that I wanted my kids to love reading, but I was still stressed about literary analysis.
Every year, I spent so much time looking over Progeny Press, Learning Language Arts Through Literature, and other curriculum choices. Why was I failing? Why couldn't I teach literary analysis? Every time I asked my kids, "How did you like the book?" all I got was, "It was great Mom - where's the next one?" When I read aloud, they laughed at the funny parts, and asked me to read more (or faster!) at the exciting parts. Still, we never had a good discussion about the deeper meanings of the literature we read.
In retrospect, it all ended well. My kids were able to do college literary analysis in their honors great books class without a problem, earning A’s. Great 20/20 hindsight, but at the time I stressed over reading comprehension more than almost anything else. The summer my kids came home from their first year of college, I felt as if I could finally say I had succeeded in my goal. They went to the library for reading material for fun. My son, Alex, read the entire works of Shakespeare and my son, Kevin, read some C.S. Lewis and Dostoevsky.
One more piece of evidence suggesting that I had, in fact, succeeded was when my younger son founded a Jane Austen Fan Club at college. He organized a Pemberley Ball, complete with period costumes, decorations, and food of the era. It was a huge success! You can see the photos, below. My sons both love the Jane Austen books and movies, and they enjoyed the Jane Austen inspired Pemberley Ball.
Hang in there - you can succeed, too! You may be stressed about a subject, but give those seeds time to germinate, and you'll see some fruit yourself!
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Please note: This post was originally published in March 2008 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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Wow Lee! Thanks for sharing this. It was so helpful to me to hear someone confirm what I've always thought and felt and was afraid to admit! This sets me free. We'll enjoy studying literature and history more this year, than we did in the past I think! We read the books that are interesting and I won't feel guilty about not requiring my son to read the books I think he would hate anyway!
Thank you, Lee, for providing needed affirmation of the direction I've decided to take our highschool literature studies. Its so good to hear confirmation from you of what I already knew to be true-- that forcing a teenager to do a lot of literary analysis of great books can turn them off reading altogether, which was my own experience.
In the process of being forced to painstakingly dissect book after book in high school, I lost all interest in reading, though I'd been an avid reader in elementary grades. I want to prevent this from happening to my teenage son!
My daughter has always been an avid reader and has scored in the 700s on her SATs for Critical Reading and Writing.
However, while she was a high school student in public school, and now a (homeschooled) student who is taking dual-enrollment English classes at the local community college, she began to loathe anything in the Literature field. She has been so turned off by the "dissection" of the written word that she is now pursuing a major in Biology!
There must be a better way to discuss literature than analyzing and over-analyzing and fabricating critiques for something that isn't even in the text to begin with!
Thanks for sharing this, Lee. Tell me, did you read everything your kids read on the Sonlight and WTMind reading lists so that you could discuss the books together? Personally, I think that a lively discussion is more enlightening and engaging than dry, technical literary analysis. But how do we discuss a book if only one of us has read it?
I am all for reading living books, but don't have the time to read everything my dd reads so that we can discuss them.
Did you read aloud to your sons or did you let them read by themselves? My dd is 12 and often prefers to read books by herself because she understands them better. When I read aloud, she is greatly entertained, but I have noticed that,sometimes, her comprehension suffers. I'm perplexed about how to move forward with this and would love to hear what you think. Thanks a lot!
As a former English major, I can attest to the fact that "required reading" is no fun! I got through several college classes -- even Shakespeare without reading the books. Yet, I love to read and later read the assignments for "fun!" I guess just didn't like the idea of somebody else dictating what I should read. I have taken that into account when I homeschool. We "analyze" one to two books per year together. The rest, we enjoy together or separately.
I'm going out on a limb here but I enjoy literary analysis. I think it's the deadlines that might squelch the enthusiasm for a novel ("I have to read this by when?"). Admittedly, some novels are more difficult to read than others (Crime and Punishment, Grapes of Wrath, Flannery O'Connor stories, etc) Good literature brings history to life and tells much about human nature--more than many college psychology textbooks. Literature analysis causes us to pause and think about the elements that make the story good and by taking note of them, it helps students to learn to be better writers. The analysis doesn't have to be to a painful degree where each paragraph is annotated; enough, however, to consider the historical context, the use of language and even appreciate the art of story-telling. I agree that not every book read needs to be analyzed but there are those that do. I still read aloud to my high school students and those are often stories that are more "pleasure reading" and often lead to some sort of small discussion.I believe reading aloud also helps develop good listening skills and family bonding. Sorry to be so loquacious!
I Think literary analysis is a waste of time. Books are written to be read and enjoyed, not torn apart looking for hidden things "the author is trying to say." The author is simply trying to write a good story for others to enjoy. Looking for information that may not be there just discourages reading. I love reading and have never analyzed a book in my life.
I have felt the same with art interpretation. I love art, but have wondered often if we read things into what the masters are trying to say rather than enjoy it for the obvious story, inspiration, and talent that went into it's creation. And I find no "meaning" whatsoever in a 20x30' canvas in a museum with simple shapes in primary colors that a first grader could have painted.
So glad to read this. I have been struggling with this for the past few years. I keep saying, "okay, next year we will tackle it", but next year never comes. Perhaps that was a good thing. I guess we will just concentrate on other writing and let the reading be for fun along with short family discussions. Thanks Lee.
Scheduling....one thing many of us struggle with as homeschoolers! We find ourselves so busy many times, that we forget that scheduling can help! (A crazy busy life can be avoided!
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