Saturday, October 4, 2008

Sibling Assignment #75: Misery Lit. at Kellogg High School

SilverValley Girl gave me and InlandEmpireGirl this assignment:

Look back on your years as a student at Kellogg High School, and write
about a memorable moment in one of the classes you took. This could
be a postive or negative moment, but it has to be a very vivid memory,
and one you can retell with much detail.

Silver Valley Girl inspires high regard for her English instructor Dale Bachman, here and InlandEmpireGirl invokes the beauty of To Kill a Mockingbird, here.


My sisters wrote glowingly about their experiences studying literature at Kellogg High School.

I envy them.

My experience "studying" literature at Kellogg High School demoralized me.

It's miraculous that I went on to major in English in college and pursued graduate studies, let alone have become a college writing and literature instructor.

My senior English class encapsulates the passionless, bloodless, cowardly instruction I encountered.

I didn't know at the time, in my senior English class, that we were reading masterpieces of the English language. Our fiction anthology included D.H. Lawrence's "Rocking Horse Winner", Joseph Conrad's "The Secret Sharer", James Joyce's "Eveline" and other late 19th and 20th century monuments.

These stories experiment with point of view, shattering traditional ways of telling stories, and are poignant tales about the condition of the human person, especially in light of the changes in the world as the 19th century became the 20th.

We read these stories. Our teacher focused attention on literary terms: symbolism, atmosphere, point of view, images, metaphor, description and we memorized definitions of these terms and looked at examples of them.

But we didn't explore for a minute how these writers employed these strategies as a means of exploring human consciousness, of probing the difficulties of making one's way in an increasingly industrial, secular, and capitalistic world.

We just learned the terms.

When the writers used words we might be unfamiliar with, the anthology's editor marked these words and defined them at the bottom of the page.

When it came time to write an exam about these stories, our test was on the literary terms (never in the context of their use) and on these vocabulary words.

We never wrote about the little boy in "Rocking Horse Winner" feverishly rocking back and forth on his hobby horse, hearing the voices in the walls crying, "There must be more money"; we never talked about what his successful picks in horse races connoted or even about his death and what died with him.

If we discussed such matters in this class, I don't remember it. I remember the stifling heat of the classroom, feeling drowsy; I remember daydreaming, trying to escape the drone of our teacher as she went over vocabulary words and talked abstractly about foreshadowing.

I read these stories later in college. These stories have been on different syllabi I have taught. In my college courses and in my own classes, we've dived deep into these stories and wrestled with the anxiety they portray, wrestled with the how subjective consciousness and perception is, and how that makes human connection, at best, difficult.

I'm no longer angry about my Kellogg High School experience. For years, the experienced fuelled me as a teacher never to deal with literature superficially, to investigate stories and poems as fully and deeply and honestly as possible. This kind of instruction defines my teaching practice.

The disappointment of my KHS experience climaxed my sophomore year at North Idaho College.

I was back home in Kellogg, shopping at Stein Brother's IGA, and I ran into my senior English teacher.

I was excited to see her because I had fallen in love with literature.

We exchanged hellos and she asked me how I was, how school was going.

I enthused, "It's going great! I am having a great time! I really love poetry! It's really exciting."

"Oh," she replied, "I never really liked poetry."

2 comments:

JBelle said...

sigh. yeah. this was the low range of our childhood.

Inland Empire Girl said...

Was your teacher JM? I don't even think I learned those literary terms in high school.