Fat books, lite on quality

Back-breaking, mind-numbing anthologies crammed with bits and pieces of writing turn students off to reading writes Patrick Welsh, a Virginia English teacher. His high school adopted a seven-pound world literature text:

It starts off with a unit titled “Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Hebrew Literature,” followed by sections on the literature of Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient China and Japan. Then comes “Persian and Arabic Literature” and “West African Oral Literature” – and that’s only the first third of the book. There are still more than 800 pages to plough through, but it’s the same drill – short excerpts from long works – a little Dante here, a little Goethe there and two whole pages dedicated to Shakespeare’s plays. One even has a picture of a poster from the film Shakespeare in Love with Joseph Fiennes kissing Gwyneth Paltrow. The other includes the following (which is sure to turn teens on to the Bard):

“Notice the insight about human life that the following lines from The Tempest convey:

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Shakespeare’s plays are treasures of the English language.”

Both books are full of obtrusive directions, comments, questions and pictures that would hinder even the attentive readers from becoming absorbed in the readings.

Controversial literature is banned to placate the right, Welsh observes; writing of dubious quality is included to please the multicultural left.

Number 2 Pencil praises Welsh for writing that schools don’t need 1,500-page textbooks to teach students the minimal skills needed to pass state tests. Students would learn more by reading actual books and short stories.

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  1. Today’s language arts textbooks are bulkier but have a great deal less literature.

    To “align with standards,” instruction is supposed to be more skill based and less literature based.

    If you want to get a sense for how insane public schooling has become, look at a textbook.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    “Controversial literature is banned to placate the right…” As opposed to the left’s open acceptance of the whole spectrum of ideas?

  3. You have to ask, who profits. Bulky textbooks cost more, and are more expensive to produce. Changing textbooks each year to fit political fads are also profitable for the publishers.

    I was in high school when leftoid political correctness started to seep into education. At the time, I read “trashy” comic books and “trashy” science fiction novels on my own – and I wonder if maybe they were better than the assigned course material.

  4. Not to sound Orwellian or anything, but I wonder what a deliberate scheme to turn kids away from real literature would look like?

  5. This is precisely why I don’t use the district lit book. It’s 800 pages of fluff. I bought my own set of used Prentice-Hall texts (Platinum), which contain some very good stuff, and which I keep locked in the armoire beyond the reach of the district NKVD. Our district abandoned P-H several years ago in favor of the current multicultural monster. I find short stories to be the perfect genre for my kids because they don’t intimidate them. A good short story, such as Ring Lardner’s “Haircut,” can be a gold mine for teaching point of view, irony, characterization, etc etc. It’s good for launching essays, too. I also try to teach four novels per year, depending on the class. Modern lit books suck.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:


    Check this out. As soon as the $100 laptop comes in, backpacks will be used only to smuggle in contraband junk food to sell.