This post has been running laps around my brain since the end of March, when I was forwarded an email from an out-of-state friend which said, basically, that the use of any books labeled Young Adult would not be approved in that particular state because “dumbing down” the AP curriculum was not the way to raise test scores. I understand, and agree, that AP should be rigorous and should include diverse reading materials that challenge students, but I also know, from the remnants of my years of fighting to prove the worth of YA, that all over the United States schools have YA titles listed online as part of required or optional AP reading. I actually have copies of more than fifty schools–public and parochial–that have such works on college-bound and AP lists. Just in flipping through those copies, I found these YA titles on AP and pre-AP, lists alone:
This may seem like a lot, but of the lists I have, there are way more canonical or otherwise non-YA reads than strictly YA, and I think that is fine. But does an anti-YA generalization, as above, seem harsh, and just maybe elitist, to anyone but me?
As the year dwindles to a close, I’m reflecting on the successes students have had with books in my English II/ English IV classroom this year. Every three weeks (see my “Integrated Literacy in the Interactive Classroom” post from 10/2010) they chose a new literature circle text to read and discuss in groups. But many students read much faster than the three-week mark; some of them read two books a week, which means, all-in-all, my students read a whole lot of books this year. And I got to hear about all of them (♥ it!) They loved a lot and hated a few, but here are the ten books they pined over (not in order of said pining).
A fellow English teacher asked me today if I knew of any YA complements to To Kill a Mockingbird for ninth graders. She says her students hate it until the trial scene and she’d like something on the side to keep the discussion (and heads) up.
Thanks for helping.
Right now I’m teaching analytical writing, in my senior classes, using Dante’s Inferno and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. For cycle four’s literature circle, students could either read Inferno or six of Chaucer’s tales in the medieval vernacular (which took much independent sparknotesing and the buying of modern translations as supplemental reading, they tell me). Their circles today–no pun intended–were amazing; and for those who read the latter, guess which characters’ tales were discussed the most? You got it: the miller, the reeve, the wife of Bath, the cook, and the friar. (These groups were hilarious juxtaposed to one another, by the way: The Dour Dantes and The Chuckling Chaucers.) And I thought, boy wouldn’t this raise some eyebrows if parents looked farther than the archaic language before deciding canonical literature is so much more “appropriate” than young adult literature. But here’s what really chafes my bottom, though fortunately not Absolon-style: even though books like Dante’s and Chaucer’s (and numerous YA titles frequently censored in some way) are available free-of-parental-permission in the school library, a parent could say his child wasn’t allowed to read it in class. This didn’t happen today, and I’m thankful it didn’t, but the students’ involvement with both texts really got me thinking about how easily those experiences–you know, actually enjoying literature, much less ancient literature–could be taken away.
Recently, an intelligent person in my administration said this (paraphrased): “If it’s good enough to be in our library, it’s good enough for any kid in our school.”
Theoretically, this would mean that a teacher who wants to teach a book, or include it as an option for a particular unit, shouldn’t need to notify parents. So, the question is this: is the goose, who willingly goes to the library for a book, more entitled to read works like The Canterbury Tales than the gander, who only chooses to read it because a choice must be made? Or should all books in the school library be safe in any classroom, any time, for any student?