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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Required Reading

This may sound lame or strange to some people but every year I get excited to see my son's list of required reading.  Part of the reason is that I get a kick out of going to my local used book store, tracking down the title, and paying a pittance for a decent used book.  The other cause for my eagerness is to see what literary works he'll be tackling and if they reflect what I studied in school way back when.

I hate to say it but this year I'm a little disappointed with 'the list'.  The great thing is that I actually own six of the nine books on the list.  So, I can greatly appreciate that I'll be shelling out a mere pittance from my lean purse.  The disappointment comes into play when we realize he's read a majority of the books.  What's the problem?

Well, to some of you, you don't actually see a problem.  In fact, you may say something like, "Oh great, then he won't have to read it again" or "English will be an easy A for him this year".  And, when I hear comments like that I shudder deep inside.  Some people fail to understand that when you have a child who is an avid reader, who actually enjoys opening a real book (not a Kindle or other electronic gadget), and who consumes and thrives on the words on a page, a syllabus that lists books he's already devoured is like eating a loaf of stale bread.  Totally unappetizing. 

To a person who enjoys the literary world and gets a type of inner fulfillment by sitting down with themselves and a book taking a class to discuss already explored waters can become rote and mundane.  It's not about not having to read it again.  It's not about an 'easy A'.  To an academically gifted person who excels in language arts it is about the discovery of new characters, new worlds, new expressions, and new points of view.

I am on the fence about bringing this point up with his teacher.  I don't want to start off on the wrong foot and dis (disrespect) his teacher's itinerary.  At the same time, I feel I should share my voice, opinion, and concern.  This time, I probably won't say anything too loudly.  Or, perhaps I'll make an inquiry on Parent's Open House night next week and ask what the motivation was to choose the following books:

Anthem by Ayn Rand
Nicolas has not read this although it looks like an interesting story.  We like dystopian fiction.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Nicolas has not read this and if it were not on his required reading list I doubt he would choose it.  My mother and I saw the movie this past weekend (we have not read the book).  I'm not sure how closely the movie follows the book but I guess he'll have to muddle through this read.  It does not seem like a story that would intrigue a 14-year-old boy.  The discussion on racism will be the saving grace for this choice.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
Nicolas has not read this but after reading a short synopsis it sounds like this might be a winner.  I'm not sure how this fits in with the curriculum other than to engage in empathy for those with mental disorders?  I may be totally off on this one but I will tackle the book myself.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Since the format of this book is comic-style Nicolas read this almost five years ago when it was assigned reading for his older brother when he was in tenth grade.  They have since made a movie of which I've seen.

The Odyssey by Homer
Yay, finally, a classic!  Unfortunately, Nicolas read this two summers ago (under his own initiative).  Luckily, he enjoyed it.  We also watched the high school production two years ago.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Another classic, another book that Nicolas already read under his own volition.  The movie is also one of my favorites.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
A classic that Nicolas has not yet read.  There is also a couple of versions of the movie out there so maybe the teacher will engage the class with a viewing?

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Easily one of my favorites.  The movies are great too.  I especially like the creativity of the remake with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.  I hope the class gets to incorporate any of the movies in their discussion.  Thankfully, Nicolas appreciates Shakespeare and has read a couple of his other plays.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Nicolas read the entire trilogy at the beginning of this summer.  His motive was because the movie is being shot in North Carolina and there may have been an opportunity to be a part of the project.  We all enjoyed the books (see previous posts) and we are all looking forward to the movie scheduled for release in March 2012.  Perhaps the teacher is planning a class excursion to the movie theater?  One can only hope!

I am not sure if this list of required reading reflects the skill level of academically gifted ninth graders.  I think there are too many books of contemporary fiction.  Whatever happened to some of my favorite classics like:  The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, or A Separate Peace?  Perhaps, they are no longer relevant for class discussion.  My dilemma is and has always been to keep my child interested in school by providing new challenges and interesting material.  At the same time I would like him to get good grades.  And I am forever left with the question:

Is it better to be challenged by difficult material which will enhance your knowledge and test your strengths or is it best to be rewarded with an 'A' by exercising mediocre effort because there is nothing to 'up' your game?

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