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.