This article stresses the value of exposing students to novels that will helpfully confront them with their own worldview, in an effort to help them grow in appreciation for reading.

Source: The Outlook, 1981. 2 pages.

Discrimination in Reading

Ever since the paperback revolution, it has been possible for every student in a class to have a copy of the same book. This means that a teacher can adopt for his literature classes, a sequence of books that can be read, analyzed, and evaluated as an in­tegral part of a course that has clearly defined goals and objectives. Each title must meet the require­ments of the learning situation at a particular point in the course of study.

Somewhere in literature courses, students are in­troduced, for example, to the short story as an art form. This will require the reading and discussion of a number of stories, some illustrating one compo­nent of the form, some another. Some will come from an early period in the development of the form, per­haps, and others from a later. It is not difficult to find a selection of models that are excellent litera­ture and that will not be offensive to Christian readers. The same is true for the study of novels. Carefully selected books, read by the entire group, discussed as to form and content under the guidance of a mature Christian teacher, will provide meaning­ful educational experience. It is also an indepth con­frontation with an author's world view as it is em­bodied in an art form.

I use the word confrontation intentionally. Chris­tians bring to their reading a whole set of basic presuppositions about what is most important to them. They bring their views of God, of the nature of the external world, their concepts of human nature, and more. Young people must be taught to discover these and to compare or contrast those of others with their own.

In order to learn to do this, there is no need to ex­pose students to the whole gamut of evil in our soci­ety. Too many of our schools have become embroiled in controversy because a teacher required the read­ing or study of controversial literature. Such a teacher has a mistaken idea about his role. He is not the person to teach social problems, or politics, or abnormal psychology. He is to teach students gram­mar, composition, and literature. (Many are not pay­ing enough attention to the first two items in that series. If they were, they wouldn't have time to cre­ate so many problems.) It is also unwise to concen­trate very much on contemporary writing. There is something called the tyranny of the contemporary. It fails to realize how little of what is written in our time has any lasting value.

My point is that the models for introducing stu­dents to the appreciation of literature need not be offensive. Perhaps certain books demand more work from the teacher. The student needs less motivation when the book is sensational and topical. But the more work a teacher puts into his teaching, the greater will be his own satisfaction, too.

What I am suggesting is that there be a different approach to the whole matter of student reading. Make the classroom experience so significant that the student will continue reading and enjoying and evaluating literature — with the tools and tech­niques he has acquired. He is more likely to do so if his experience was not soured by controversy.

Which brings up another matter to which I've given some thought. In some cases that have come to my attention, the struggle over which books stu­dents should read has divided whole communities, alienated supporters, distressed administrators, and even engaged church consistories and pastors. Much mental and emotional agitation followed, and suspicion and distrust linger for decades afterward. For example, this was true in several cases where teachers attempted to introduce The Catcher in the Rye. All I can say is that the book is not worth it! No book is — with the exception of the Bible, of course.

Before engaging a teacher of English, the school board ought to have a clear understanding of the stance he or she will take regarding these matters. (It would be wise to establish a syllabus or course of study for each class. It would need to be updated from time to time, of course, but good education demands that there be definite goals and objectives, and a spelling out of how these are to be achieved.)

I would encourage teachers to forget about the works they recently read or studied in college if these are unacceptable to a community. Many begin­ning teachers try to teach what they have recently studied, even if these works are unsuitable for the high school student and unacceptable to the com­munity. It is important, too, that the teacher avoid adopting an adversary stance. It is much better to become a part of the community, to share its con­cerns, and to work with its members in creating an atmosphere of trust and confidence.

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