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Old Words

"I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a handbarrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, living white."

Most of my students are at the end of High School, studying for the HSC, stuck in what I can only describe to you as an endless drudgery of essays, sometimes disguised as speeches and feature articles, but always about listing the same techniques, again and again. Make no mistake, the final years of High School are the easiest for literature, because it is so by the numbers, so mind numbing, that it requires no real independent thought--but that's another post, truly. What my post here today is about is the student I have who is not so old. I have a couple who are in lower years and who I set books to read, trying to introduce them to new authors, to books they like. It is for them that I keep an eye on the young adult genre, for who I know titles such as The Hunger Games and the Cherub books and so forth.

But one of the young guys I'm teaching has, strangely, developed this taste for classics. Nothing to big, mind you. Books are still judged on size. But he dug Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, which got me wondering what else I could toss at him, and what else he would digest. Currently, he is reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and maybe I'll send him over to T H White's the Once and Future King after this. It's a strange experience, actually, to find a kid who will willingly read these books. Most students don't like to read anything that even remotely smells of something that was made before they were born. In a culture where youth sells, where looking young and acting in such a way, and hiding any moment of aging is the way to go, the result of this in terms of literature and film is for a lot of youth to simply not read or watch or listen to anything over a decade old. Old is bad. Old is difficult and uninteresting and not fun.

And for the most part, whatever, y'know? You either grow out of that or you don't. But I am getting to teach Treasure Island and that pleases for, or some reason.


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May. 17th, 2011 12:52 pm (UTC)
Get him onto Sherlock Holmes. Some of the short stories are nice and simple enough to digest, while sneakily teaching kids that observation and deduction are actually good life skills.

Can you tell I've had yet another day of doing other people's thinking for them?
May. 19th, 2011 07:20 am (UTC)

kids don't really dig the doyle stuff, though. the mysteries don't seem to stand up against the stuff they can and are exposed to on the television...
May. 19th, 2011 08:45 am (UTC)
I started on Sherlock Holmes when I was about 12. But I was a freak.
May. 19th, 2011 09:29 am (UTC)
yeah, that's about the right age for it, i think. i just don't think they're holding up with a generation who play GTA and watch CSI and the like. but that's just my opinion. im sure there are kids out there who dig it still.
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