A couple days ago I was back in my classroom when the “Sneak Peak” sixth graders were coming through the middle school to check it out in advance of their official arrival.
Here’s what I saw:
The farther we get from middle school (just in time, some people kind of camp out there emotionally for the rest of their lives) the less likely we are to remember the turmoil that is adolescence. It can be a time of intense loneliness for many young people. They don’t know who they are, or who they’re supposed to be, or who they want to be. What I wish most for my middle school students, aside from supportive involved parents, food and shelter, is one good friend. That’s really all you need to make it through. But unfortunately there are a lot of kids who don’t even have that.
So for those kids I hope they can find a good book, preferably a lot of them. I hope they can find a book with a character they relate to, or idolize, laugh or cry with. Because sometimes that’s all it takes to feel less alone in the world. This has nothing to do with English class or curriculum or meeting state standards. This is about making connections, the kind of connections that can get you through a rough patch. It’s about opening your eyes to new experiences and knowing that the world is a big place.
The editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature were recently interviewed here about the 50th anniversary edition. At the end of the interview both were asked why study literature? Their answers are best read in full but here are a few quotes I liked:
“It broadens you, it makes you more human.”
“It expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing.”
I want that for my students. I want that as a teacher, a reader and a writer.