do you still hate your high school english teacher?

OK, now you’ve done it, my friends. Hit two of my hot buttons at the same time. I’m talking about a facebook conversation about literature in high school that I just had to jump into. Even though I know the possibility of confining myself to a facebook word count when discussing teenagers, literature, and teen depression is about as likely as me cliff diving in Mexico. And it’s way bigger than one blog post, so I imagine there may be several.

So, I’m the mother of three teenage girls, a former high school English teacher, and a writer, currently working on my first young adult novel. I care passionately about what kids read. And too often, I’m really discouraged by it.

You might think I mean the books they choose to read for themselves, but I don’t. I mean the ones their teachers/administrators require them to read. The list reads like a Who’s Who and What’s What of everything that could possibly go bad with the world and, specifically, their lives. By the end of freshman year, most kids should, according to their literature books, have suffered the death, imprisonment, abuse, or addiction of at least one parent; war-related trauma; rape; a car accident that killed their best friend and/or sister; and probably an end-of-the-world cannibal scenario thrown in as well. The fact that most kids don’t seems to have escaped the purview of literature teachers everywhere.

My youngest daughter’s summer freshman reading list last year was a good case in point. I do not recall one book on the list that wasn’t flat out depressing. And having talked with teens and lived through a lot of teenage depression, this does more than annoy me. It alarms me. At an age when kids are so prone to doomsday thinking anyway (Something bad happened to me today. Therefore, my life sucks. I guess everyone’s life sucks. Is there anything worth getting up for tomorrow?), why do we feel the need to fan the flame? Shouldn’t we consider maybe putting books in their paths that send the message, “Life is beautiful, even if you have to hang on a while to get there?” For whatever reason, we think feeding them “reality” means feeding endless messages about how ugly the world is, instead.

I’m not unrealistic. My own mother died while I was in high school. So did my sister. A very dear friend killed himself. I get that bad things happen to kids. The question is, is that all we want them to know? Do we really want to spend four years affirming their fears? “Yep, you’re right. Life sucks. Now graduate and get out there!”?

What do you think? It would be great to generate some opinions and even some reading alternatives. Back to this later!

One thought on “do you still hate your high school english teacher?

  1. Oh, how horrible, Jill! I had no idea. Our kids are grown, and attended a Christian high school, where they read decent literature.

    Then you have the opposite: a girl who worked for me told me that in her 4 years of high school she only read one book that wasn't a textbook: To Kill a Mockingbird. I was appalled.


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