Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hills and a Valley

I was watching what seemed like endless hills on my drive into school today, when suddenly they spread back into a spacious valley, and, as happens so often, the scene brought with it thoughts about teaching English to teenagers. When we’re reading A Tale of Two Cities or some poems of Shelley, I’m sure my students often feel like they’re lost among strange, bewildering hills, and yet there are always soothing valleys somewhere along the way -- places in the reading that do make sense, that do open the kids’ minds to thoughts they haven’t met before. They must learn the patience of the serious reader – learn to let the confusing places have their way until the way leads, now and then, to a few moments of wisdom and pleasure. After all, confusion is a generous gift if it leads, as it surely can, to its opposites, understanding and appreciation. I’ve always believed, weird as it might sound, that one of my responsibilities as an English teacher is to cause my students to enter what I might call wilderness areas in their reading and writing, because only then can they discover the secret and surprising ideas that can supervise their continuous growth as intelligent human beings. I could keep the kids in effortless and comfortable valleys of reading and writing throughout the year – an easy way to win kids over and have them saying, “We love English class!” – but that would be ducking my duty. There are thrilling things to be learned in seemingly mystifying and unmanageable books and assignments, but the hills do have to be climbed. The easy valleys will be there, but only among the sometimes lofty hills.

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