Metamorphosis and enjoying great literature

I was reluctant to teach literature at first. The first literature class emerged from a Sacred Texts class I taught several years ago, and we focused on literature that explored religious themes and not just literature about religions. The list included authors as far ranging as HP Lovecraft, CS Lewis, William Golding, Albert Camus, and many others. The class evolved into a broader literature class which explored many themes: gender, psychology, history, and just about anything that you can imagine. All books could be found on AP Literature lists with a few notable exceptions, and students had no strict requirements regarding written assignments. No worksheets, no quizzes on literary terms (although they were discussed), and no vocabulary lists. We sat in a circle and discussed the characters, the plot, the author’s style, and freely criticized the material. Sometimes we disagreed (memories of the merit of F. Scott Fitzgerald come to mind immediately). We made connections to other works, to life, and to humanity.

Homeschoolers tend to be readers. Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that school-schoolers have moved away from reading. Incoming college freshman often express frustration at having to read “the whole book” when l assign literature. All books, from Danticat to Durkheim to Derrida to Dante are “novels”. When the school-schoolers read, it is not to enjoy the book, but to pull what they need for the assignment. Sadly, this is one of the greatest tragedies of modern American public education: the loss of the joy of reading and celebration in enjoying a great book.

This year, we begin our literature journey with Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. From there, students vote on which books to choose. Last year they devoured Emma, Candide, War of the Worlds, Utopia, The Merchant of Venice, the Color Purple, and Les Miserables. I have no idea what they will chose this year, but I cannot wait to find out!

Photo credit: Baum, Spencer, “Existential Dread Among Us: The Prescience of Kafka’s Metamorphosis”

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