English Class Struggles

Kali Deck, Writer

From having to do years and years of summer reading and then coming back to school and analyzing two to seven books a year, it’s come to my attention that either classic literature or English teacher’s preferences tend to be more on the depressing side.

I get it, these books are acclaimed classics and should most definitely be read, but there are countless articles, studies, blogs, books, etc. written that describe why high schoolers are not understanding these works to their full potential.

They aren’t old enough to understand, they haven’t gone through these adult struggles yet so when they read novels like The Great Gatsby and Macbeth they can only relate to them through their teenage experiences which is definitely not what the author had intended.

These people are going through enough challenges and struggles of their own, and now they are also expected to quickly learn and understand the horrible lives of these classic characters when there is no possible way for them to truly comprehend the pain.

This doesn’t make sense.

Reading The Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, or Romeo and Juliet is one thing because they are written from either a teenager’s or child’s perspective, but reading stories like The Things They Carried which is a collection of war stories or All But My Life which is about the life of a Holocaust survivor, is completely illogical because there is no way that these high school students will have experienced either of those situations that strongly at this point in their lives. They would not, could not, understand these books.

When these students can’t find the message that the book is trying to explain then they just get caught up in the story which normally is not a bad thing, but all the books that are chosen to be required reading are extremely depressing. Years and years of reading nothing but dark material both in class and over the summer for homework have started to affect our students mentality.

I am the Editor-in-Chief of our school’s Literary Magazine called Indian Lore where we get in submissions of poetry, short stories, and other assorted arts and I can tell you for a fact that none of our submissions are light hearted. Some may have a neutral tone, but never happy. They are typically all dark and gruesome and frantically it’s very concerning.

From reading the entries it’s also become obvious which submissions were originally school assignments because we will get a lot of pieces written about the same topic in the same number of pages and all of the submissions are from people in the same grade. We have full class submissions about car crashes, murders, break ups, and death, and we have a lot of them.

It’s disturbing to read and I have to question if this is part of the district criteria for English classes or if it is by the teacher’s design.

Either way, though, it’s a problem.

More positive books need to be incorporated in our English Class criteria or if nothing else, more neutral books, because at the moment our students are being bombarded with material they cannot understand at this point in their lives and their writing, both personal and professional, is reflecting the darkness of those books. At its core, something needs to change, and soon, because our students coping strategies are just as frightening as the books they are being forced to read.