Friday, December 01, 2006

Lately I’ve been thinking that a good English teacher, oddly enough, might want to make purposeful use of obscurity now and then. One definition of the word “obscure” is “dark, shadowy, or clouded”, and surely teenagers would occasionally enjoy reading a book that is obscure in that sense. They love mysteries and enigmas, and it might titillate them to know that a novel we’re reading is considered “obscure” by many people. They might enjoy the knowledge that they are exploring a mystifying book that a relatively small number of young people have studied. Actually, I sometimes purposely make my subject matter seem obscure, just to give the students the sense that some arcane mystery awaits them in this lesson. I tell them, “You probably won’t understand this, because it’s baffled educated people for many years” – and immediately I sense that their alertness level has been raised. They’re obviously up for the challenge of searching a shadowy, inscrutable area of the world of English. I might even tell them that what we’ll be studying is considered by many to be “cryptic”, suggesting that it’s so puzzling and code-like that only certain special people would be able to understand it. This puts my students in a unique category, that of skilled investigators of unusual phenomena. English class then becomes, perhaps, a place of fascinating, obscure mysteries instead of a place where a rather tiresome curriculum is laboriously covered day by day.

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