Reading Literature Is Not a Waste of Time

A response to a parent who questioned the value of high school English classes.


I Did Not See This Coming

“When I was in high school,” a parent said to me, “It was about participles, past-participles, and the like. Now, it’s all about novels. What’s up with that? Why? It’s such a waste of time.”

As she proceeded to start her lawn work, she realized she had more to say and stopped what she was doing. “I mean, I know you all need money, but why bother with these English classes when all you’re going to do is read novels?”

Color me not surprised. I figure her child is struggling to answer a key question: “Why do I have to learn this?” Perhaps her teacher has not addressed that question.

My response to her was: “In earlier years, yes, it is appropriate to study grammar and writing properly. By ninth grade, those skills should be in a good place – meaning it’s time to develop them and hone them in different contexts. But, in high school, studying literature is about studying the human condition. The only way humans can make progress is to study literature and history, to understand our past to work toward a better future. As students are discovering interdependence, it is a perfect time to address their critical role in society.”

Yes, I did say something like that.

I continued: “In my classes, I strive to answer a fundamental question with each assignment: ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ Perhaps other teachers do, perhaps they don’t. I can only speak for myself.”

Her response: “If you say so!” I took that to mean she thought what I said was utter nonsense.

We Are Not Teachers for the Salary

I’m not sure where my neighbor got the idea that teachers are attracted to the profession for the salary. If that is what we wanted, most of us would be in the private sector. For example, when I was in the private sector, I made at least 30% more than I do now. I’m not in it for the money, as she indicated. I was insulted by that remark, but did not want to address it. I’m new to the neighborhood.

So, I will say it here: No teacher I know is in it for the money. We become teachers to help others, namely students and families.

How Would You Have Responded?

I would like to start a conversation with this post. How would you have responded to my neighbor? I look forward to seeing your responses.

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