2013-08-09 / Columnists

Slice of Life

By Beth Hanning

In the last few months in most of the major New York City newspapers you may have read an article on the NEW Common Core State Standards. You may also have read an article on how there is so much pressure on the results of state exams from third grade to twelfth grade. In my recollection, which is pretty good, my husband says I probably remember being in the womb, I barely have a recollection of practicing for state exams.

What I do remember is my love of literature. I would work for hours in math and science but could finish a novel for English class in a breeze. I loved literature because of the wonderful teachers who brought their love of reading to the classroom. I worry about a generation of students who just complete test prep or read “informational texts” (which is a big CCSS push).

Things I never would have learned from “test prep” or “informational texts”: 1. The Great Depression. If I had not read Of Mice and Men by John

Steinbeck I never would have understood the plight of the migrant worker or the difficulty that people endured during The Great Depression. The novella also made me very sympathetic to someone in both George and Lennie’s situation.

2. Teen Suicide and Family Dynamics. In 11th grade the late Brother George Roth from St. Francis Prep taught contemporary literature. This is where I read the novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest. At the time when Brother George introduced it I had only heard of the film. I quickly read the novel and could not believe the sadness that families go through and how families that look as if they have it all could be suffering so deep on the inside.

3. Racism. Let’s face it, I grew up pretty sheltered. I did not really truly understand what African Americans went through until I read two novels: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I will never forget my anger at the jury in Maycomb County or Atticus Finch’s determination and bravery in taking on the controversial case. I read The Color Purple with the above mentioned Brother George and once again was shocked that even in the 1900s African American women bore such challenges.

4. Internment Camps. After high school I fell in love with Danielle Steele and the romance novel. In her novel Silent Honour she takes on the topic of an American soldier who marries a Japanese American women in the 1940s. The couple is separated when her family is sent into an internment camp during World War II. Now I may have learned about this topic in the 1980s in American History class, but I do not recall it at all. I read this novel in the 1990s and I remember asking my very intelligent father if this actually happened?

As a lover of literature I could go on and on about the different time periods I fell in love with and the novels I read while in middle school and high school: Night, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Diary of Anne Frank and of course The Outsiders. I truly hope that our students can learn to love literature and not just think of school as test prep. I would love to hear what your favorite book in school was and what you think you learned that you may not have learned without it. Beth81772 @aol.com or Tweet me @ BethHanning2.

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