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Reading Rules

For those of you who read my column regularly, you know I am a high school English teacher. One of the reasons I love being an English teacher is I get paid to do what I love: teaching reading and writing and oftentimes spreading that love to my students. Being an English teacher is challenging, but there is nothing greater than when students inform you about their enjoyment for a novel or short story you just finished.

During the last month of “regular school” in 2020, my ninth grade class read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Before we read it, we had a respectful conversation about Steinbeck’s use of language. I explained that during this time period that is how ranch hands would have spoken to each other. The students were very responsive. When we finished the novella, a young man said to me, “Miss, I did not know I liked to read. If you give me more books like this I think I would like to read them.” This young man had no idea what a significant comment this was. He has opted back into school recently and we spoke, and he was touched. I thought it was so impactful as a teacher.

The woke culture is trying to get rid of novels that they feel are offensive and racist. Of Mice and Men mentioned above is one of those books. Another novel that is being “cancelled” is my favorite novel of all time: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. An English teacher I know is currently rewriting her school’s curriculum and Mockingbird is out! It is being cancelled because even though the American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the #1 hero on their heroes list, the woke culture claims he was not a hero because he was doing his job. If you know the novel as well as I do, you know he was not the usual public defender. Judge Taylor asks Atticus to take the case because the public defender was not experienced enough to take the case. Even the old timers in the town are not upset he has the case because they know Judge Taylor assigned it to him; they are upset he is “aiming” to defend Tom Robinson.

I am not sure why that would be a terrible thing? A man helping another man. A proud honest lawyer going against the town? Placing his family in danger?

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the novels we read as a class and every time we read it together, students are always stating how much they enjoyed it. I hope teachers like me keep arguing the merits of some of these great works of literature.

Mallory Blackman has said, “Reading is an exercise in empathy, an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” It is okay to be uncomfortable sometimes in those shoes.

Have a great week everyone.

By Beth Hanning 

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