Prompt: In your journal, respond to an imagined foe who says, “Oh, you’re an English teacher? What you do is not useful.” When prompted to elaborate, your foe explains: “Okay, sure, writing is a useful skill, but not the way you teach it. You should be teaching people to write emails and blog posts, not five paragraph essays. Reading is useful, but people dont need to know how to read sonnets; teach them to follow the directions on their tax forms, teach them to read the newspaper. How can you justify what you do?”
Alright buddy, let me tell you something. You’re right. At least you would be right if all I did was teach kids how to write five paragraph essays or read sonnets. But I don’t. While I teach them how to write a five paragraph essay, I’m also providing them a schema for structuring other forms of writing. While I teach them how to read sonnets, I’m teaching them that form follows function- and this is true in architecture and relationships too.
But I also teach appreciation. For you can’t apprecaite something you don’t know about. You take a look at a Rembrant and it’s a nice painting. Take another look after you’ve taken an Art History class, and suddenly you notice the play of light, the composition, the color and style. Suddenly a painting you barely glanced over becomes one you smile because you recognize not just the painting, but the painter, the time period, the story. You beam with the pleasure of knowing about the painting. You enjoy, you appreciate. It’s art.
I do this with literature. You read Gatsby. It’s a pretty good story you think. But come take my class. I’ll show you color, symbols, structure, sentences that flow like rivers and end like bullets. I’ll show you characters that you recognize in the faces of your friends. And when you walk past a book store and see the name Fitzgerald on a cover, you’ll smile, because you know. Because you appreciate the artful.
I teach critical reading. You should see my kids’ brows furrow in concentration when they’re digging through The Odyssey. They can’t figure it out. “It’s hard!” They whine. I point out a strategy they might use to decode the language. Their brows furrow again. Their tongues poke out of their lips, and they take up their pens. Determined not to let that guy Homer get the best of them. Don’t tell me they won’t use these skills of perseverance, decoding, and strategy when they’re looking over their tax forms.
And if you’re not convinced, I’ll let Taylor Mali speak for me: