Five Things I've Gained from Reading Literature
People want to know why we teach Shakespeare instead of how to write business reports. Students want to know why they need to read Huck Finn instead of writing resumes. Politicians want to know why we talk about Emily Dickinson instead of doing test prep.
In her report this week, Carol Jago explains that by studying literature, students learn to read and think critically. They learn about the human condition. They learn to explore and critique the many texts that they encounter, from novels and poetry to blog posts and YouTube videos. These are true, well-established reasons, but families, students, and communities who are asking the questions sometimes have difficulty relating these explanations to their personal experiences.
Rather than telling you the benefits of literature, I’m asking you to tell me. I’m asking you to share what you've gained from reading literature..
Think about the literature you've read—short stories, novels, plays, memoirs, and poetry. Any literature counts, from picture books to epic poems, and from romance novels to sci-fi fan-fiction. Answer each question, and explain your response in a few sentences.
1. What piece of literature has stayed with you, even though you haven't read it recently? Why?
2. What character or story has influenced something you've done? Explain.
3. What character or piece of literature seemed to relate to a recent news story or personal experience? Explain.
4. What character has make you wonder why he or she did/said something?
5. Name something from a work of literature (such as a character, setting, or quotation) that you find beautiful or vivid.
As you answer these questions, they are actually proving that literature has influenced who you are. Each of the questions has a concrete purpose, to focus on a specific reason that we read literature.
Now, Compare the questions and your responses to these underlying messages:
Literature has enduring value to the reader.
Literature influences our actions and beliefs.
Literature connects to our own time and place in the world.
Literature inspires critical thinking.
Literature has lasting beauty.
Together, the five questions tell us not only what a specific person has gained from reading literature, but also the very reasons that students should read and write about literature throughout their lives. Literature matters. No question about it