Ninth grade literature class–I was not aware that I had been chosen for the class of only twelve students. We read a few short stories in common and discussed them. The lengthier novels we selected for ourselves and read them individually. Everyone had different essays to write based on what they read. I figured that this kind of independence was just the nature of high school. Now that I am older, I wish it were the norm for more students.
My favorite book at the time was the Count of Monte Cristo, a gift from my older brother. The teacher then provided me with excerpts from other French authors and recommended reading the unabridged version of Les Miserable. Years later when this play became a musical, I took my youngest child to see this play performed at the high school where I worked. (It was a version edited for high school production). Still a connection grew between us as she watched a drama unfold that had intrigued me as a student not much older than her.
Back to my high school English class–it contained a modest size library of paperbacks, which the students could peruse. If I chose a book that was not to my liking, I could put it down and start another. At one point I selected Fahrenheit 451, not knowing that this copy had the curse words expunged from it. Did this censorship in a book about book burning ruin my experience with literature? Not at all, instead I became fond of Ray Bradbury’s work. My next selection was his anthology of short stories called Dandelion Wine, which I enjoyed even more. The author wrote about being human in a style filled with imagery and emotion that did not require an exciting science-fiction plot to keep my interest.
Even though my child’s ability to read was hampered by dyslexia. I did not want her to miss the experience of reading classics. Often I would read works to her I had treasured as a young teen. When her entire class was assigned Fahrenheit 451, I read it to her aloud and did not think this time it would be any different. However, I was a bit surprised at the cursing and wondered why I did not notice it the first time I read the book. So, I asked her if it was okay if I skipped these words. She told me that the teacher was doing the same thing.
Questions formed immediately. Despite having dyslexia my child was in a regular ninth grade class. If the other students had normal reading skills, why did the teacher need to read the book aloud? If the other students had the maturity of high school students, why did she have to refrain from saying the curse words. Well, perhaps it was because they only had the maturity of high school students. Their snickering, or worse behavior, would cause a disruption. Would they be able to understand Montag’s desperate acts, such as turning the book burning torch on his boss? Or would they miss the point of it and assume they were reading the comic superhero kind of violence.
When I introduced literature to my own child, I had a sense of her maturity and readiness to face the crimes of mankind. Yes, the books were fiction, but the truth was not far off (and often more senselessly violent). Today, students are treated like clones, sent to classes to read without the ability to choose, and without real guidance based on their maturity. Perhaps that is the reason that some never connect with literature, and the diet of new books is not going to create the connection that needs to exist between the person personally recommending the book and the child who can choose it.