That would be how I feel about school right about now.
Writing 3 papers in three days is no joke, my friends.
However, I am slightly proud of one of those papers. And seeing as how it was more of a personal reflection essay than a paper, I'm posting it here for the world to see.
This blog's puprose is to provide insight into my little world, and this essay gives you a taste of what I am passionate about (other than my dog, food, husband, and television, that is).
Read if you like. I've edited out some of the more technical parts.
Growing up, I always strived to be my best when it came to school, and learning to read was no different. I quickly and easily picked up how to read and began doing so mostly to show off to my teachers and parents. I do not remember ever particularly loving reading, though I was good at it. It was something I did in school to please others. Fortunately, as I have gotten older and exposed to great literature, reading has become something that I enjoy and I wish I could spend more time doing. I have a list of authors that, when I finally have some free time, I cannot wait to delve into their works, with Zola and Camus being at the top of that list. French literature has become my greatest love and my greatest challenge. While reading in French is difficult for me, it is a labor of love that deserves more of my time and attention. Reading bits of French literature was what changed my whole perspective on learning French. Speaking French moved from being a neat skill to becoming an integral part of my identity through the works of Baudelaire Rimbaud. As full time student with a full time job, leisurely reading, especially in French, is a novel idea. I simply do not have time to read and appreciate literature of my own choosing. When I read now, it is almost always an assignment for class. Again, I have reverted back to reading for the purpose of pleasing others, not myself.
Reading a novel still can be hit or miss for me. If I have a connection to the story, be it emotional or intellectual, the experience is almost always positive. This connect is essential for me and the way I learn. I have to make important personal ties to the literature I read for it to have impact and meaning to me.
The most meaningful and positive experience I have had with literature came at a very disruptive time in my life. I was in the tenth grade and my first real boyfriend had just broken up with me. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. My whole world stopped. Things that had once been so secure and comforting were now confusing and scary. I began to question the goodness of people and society. I also had copious amounts of newly freed time. I spent a good portion of it crying and moping at first, but one day during study hall, I decided to go to the school library to find something to keep my mind occupied. I skimmed the shelves, and by some miracle, I decided to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Why and how I chose that particular book, I do not know, but I will forever be thankful that I did. Charlie, the book’s main character, made me laugh again, but also broke my heart. My sadness was his sadness. I cried for him and for myself. Even though my world was shattered, it made me feel better to know other people had shattered worlds too. I was no longer alone. I finished the book in two days, returned to the library, and checked out another. Again, I do not remember how I chose the books I did, but they were books that provided me with characters I saw myself in.: characters that I could understand and cry with. I must have read at least 10 books in the two-week period it took for me to finally get over being dumped. I could not have done it without the emotional catharsis those books gave me. It was through young adult literature that I began to see the world differently and mature my outlook on life.
My best experience with literature happened within school walls, but I came to the literature on my own as an independent reader. At a time when I had little control in my life, the freedom to choose what I read was an empowering choice. As Rosenblatt suggests, I was able to experience literature within my own context and arrange it into my schema accordingly. Instead of reading and thinking what the teacher told me to think, I was able to self-regulate my own learning. I could make sense of this literature without the guidance of a teacher. This independent learning style was an important keystone in moving out of Piaget’s Concrete Operational stage and into the Formal Operation stage. At first, I was drawn to the literature for emotional release, a concrete reason, but as I read more, I was able to take some of the “big questions” about life and use these books as a lens in which to see the world, which was the abstract thinking I was previously incapable of performing at a high level.
I have been fortunate enough not to have a truly terrible experience with literature. I was lucky to never have been turned off of reading by a horrible assignment or teacher. I never had to read something I disliked or at least did not see the purpose of reading. Of course there were reading assignments and books that I did not care for, but I always saw reason behind the assignment. I could always see what I was meant to learn from the literature, even if personally, I did not care for it.
However, I have had less than favorable experiences with literature. The experience that stands out the most for me was reading Macbeth in the twelfth grade. I never have been (nor ever will be, I fear) a fan of Shakespeare, but by twelfth grade, I was accustomed to spending a couple of weeks each school year on his works. I could power through it knowing we were reading Lord of the Flies, which I was excited about, when we finished Macbeth. As we began reading Macbeth, I settled in for my few obligatory weeks of Shakespeare. We read the play out of our textbook, mostly in class, and I am sure we had supplemental assignments to go along with the play, though those escape my memory. But we were also preparing extensively for the AP exam, reading poetry from the same time period and various other activities. Macbeth got pushed down on the list. We would read a scene or two one day, and then not pick it back up for a week. Or we would spend a whole week reading and discussing Act II extensively, but then not begin Act three for another week or two. Macbeth got extended into nearly a 9 weeklong unit that was stop and start. I struggled to retain information from one scene to the next. I completely confused characters and plot lines. The subtleties that make Shakespeare beautiful were either rushed over or discussed so long ago, and their meanings were lost. By the time we finally finished Macbeth, I could barely remember how it started. I did embarrassingly poor on the final test because I just could not remember the facts of the play, nor was I willing to go back and reread half of the play. The whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth for Shakespeare that I still carry to this day.
Now that I am learning to think like a teacher, I can see why I suffered so much through Macbeth. The main issues were with my cognitive information processing. The teenage brain is still developing at tremendous rates. Though a cognitive development lens, it is shown that the adolescent brain is still working though different ways to process information. Attention, recall ability, memory, constructing images and strategies, and problem solving are all areas that are still increasing and growing in the eighteen year old’s brain. Though Piaget suggest that I was at an Formal operational stage, capable of both logical and abstract thinking, I was not given the proper environment or time span to construct the knowledge necessary to operate at the Formal level. The learning was not scaffolded, but disjointed into bits and pieces, many of which were not connected. No patterns of thought were able to be created.
As a teenager, I was never an avid reader outside of school, especially in the ninth grade. One day, my mom and I were out shopping and decided to stop into the local bookstore. After flipping though all the magazines with Justin Timberlake on the cover, I was ready to leave. Just as we were purchasing my magazines, my mom noticed a display by the register. On it was J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. My mom picked up the book and slowly flipped though it. She looked like she had just seen an old friend. I was somewhat surprised by my mother’s reaction. I must have had a quizzical look on my face because she proceeded to explain that Catcher in the Rye was one of her favorite books when she was my age. I was intrigued at this point. She offered to buy the book for me (no small gesture if you know my tight-wad mother). I took the book home and began reading almost immediately. It is important to note here, that as a 15-year-old ninth grader in an affluent area, I had never felt lost, strange, hopeless, or even out of place in my world. That was to come a year later, as I mentioned above. But as a 15 year old, I was as happy as I could be. This was my state going into Catcher in the Rye. At 15, I was still shocked and disgusted at the use of foul language, so I immediately could not believe my mother had purchased a book for me full of it. Did she not remember the not infrequent use of certain four letter words? I continued to read on to hopefully discover the amazing qualities my mother had loved. But this Holden Caulfield character? He was a whiny, self-absorbed jerk. The kid has it all going for him and he just screws around and messes things up. What was the chip on his shoulder? I couldn’t get through the novel. I found it pointless, offensive and irritating.
Looking back, I see that I was not ready for Catcher in the Rye. As Piaget suggests, I was not able to make the world of Holden Caulfield fit into my schema. The story was too far removed from my life and I was not yet functioning fully at the formal operational stage. Also, I was given the novel with no instruction, background, or insight. The difficult book was not within my zone of proximal development and my mother was clearly unaware of the scaffolded support I would need when reading such a challenging book at that age. Most importantly, through Kohlberg’s theory, I realize that my moral development had not reached a level necessary to appreciate the novel. I was operating at Stage 2, Level 3 that indicated that I was concerned with being “good”. I was still trusting and secure with the world around me and had not begun to question things that Holden Caulfield saw so clearly.
As a teacher, whether it is English or French, reading literature in an integral part of any curriculum I create. I understand how reading something meaningful to students can aide in their personal lives and also give them the knowledge, power, and courage to begin to ask the really tough big questions. I want my students to have that same gut grabbing, raw, almost painfully wonderful experience I had with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because without that first visceral reaction, I fear that many students will slip into the routine of believing that reading literature is only to be done in school when the teacher tells them to. I want literature to become part of my students’ lives and identities, like how the French Symbolist poet’s are a part of mine. Teenagers are at a great crossroads when they arrive in our classrooms. They are not yet adults, but their brains, hormones, and emotions all tell them they are. Reading great literature can ease them through this turbulent time because it can give a name to emotions that were previously unnamable, thoughts that were previously unthinkable, and feelings that were once intangible. I will be an accomplished teacher one day when my students’ find refuge, not in drinking, peers or drugs, but in the gut-wrenching stories of Charlie, Macbeth, or Holden.