According to Francine Prose , many American high schoolers are learning to loathe literature because they are offered stale writing which is held up as exemplary by their teachers. Prose points to the writing of Maya Angelou specifically, asserting that her "murky, turgid, convoluted language" cannot possibly be considered a...
According to Francine Prose, many American high schoolers are learning to loathe literature because they are offered stale writing which is held up as exemplary by their teachers. Prose points to the writing of Maya Angelou specifically, asserting that her "murky, turgid, convoluted language" cannot possibly be considered a model of capable writing. Prose believes that the only reason Angelou's work should be used in education is to demonstrate poor writing; teachers should be asking why Angelou obscures her ideas when she could be much more clear. Prose points to other writers who are often similarly hailed for their literary excellence but whose style leaves much room for improvement.
Prose also insists that many English teachers no longer approach literature as writing that deserves to be closely studied and examined. Instead of going through a text word by word and line by line to reveal the intentions of the author, teachers often use literature as a "vehicle for the soporific moral blather [teenagers] suffer daily from their parents." Teachers choose literature because it presents "values" and not because the writing is inventive or pleasurable. Thus, the overall goal of teaching a work of literature is often not an examination of English itself but an effort "to understand problems" in society.
Teachers also attempt to treat authors of the past as children who need to be reprimanded. Students are forced to read literature and discuss how fictional characters could be "improved" or how the work itself could be altered to "atone for the sins of their creators." Thus, students are implicitly taught that the works they are reading don't have any value and simply reflect the writing, style, and ideas of incapable authors.
Prose also maintains that teachers reduce weighty and significant ideas in literature to hopelessly vapid lesson plans. Students reading about Anne Frank's plight are therefore asked to bring in paper bags with items they might take if forced into hiding under similar circumstances. Or they might be asked to respond to a Dickinson poem by using Freud's levels of consciousness to interpret her meaning. Teachers believe that these activities foster discussion, but they actually prevent it, according to Prose. By limiting discussions to the students' own narrow place in history, the experience of historical accuracy and what the book itself can offer is all but destroyed.
Finally, teachers often simply avoid teaching complex texts without clear "good" guys and "bad" guys. They, for example, don't teach Baldwin's short story "Sonny's Blues," because Sonny is a complex protagonist who cannot be easily defined as either "good" or "bad." They fail to teach works that indicate the ways racism affects "every tiny decision" in life and often reduce reading lists to works which lack potential for any purposeful and nuanced evaluation.