Thursday, March 02, 2006

Opening a Can O' Worms

Someone who works at the school loaned me this DVD when he learned, to his horror, that I'd not seen the film yet. He was sure I would love it, and he was right.

I think, though, that I'll want to watch it again very soon. I feel like there were a lot of things I missed, I think, because I was multi-tasking at the time. I shuffled back and forth in an effort to tidy up (and those of you who know the current condition of my environment know that this is no small task), was up and down in the process of cycling laundry through the machines in the basement, and was interrupted several times by phone calls. When the end credits rolled, I felt distinctly as though I'd missed something important. so I'll go back and watch it again - maybe this weekend - to see if that feeling has merit.

So, here comes the can opener I reference in the title of this post: I have to admit to never having read the book. Actually, the number of "classics" that I haven't read is really quite shameful, given that I'm to receive my second degree in English teaching in a little more than ten weeks. Shouldn't all English teachers have read Last of the Mohicans? Shouldn't we all have read Red Badge of Courage and The Great Gatsby? I haven't. Maybe I should.

Here are my questions for you, Dear Readers: how do YOU feel about the "canon"? Are there certain books that SHOULD be read, either in high school or in college? Are there some "classics" that should be compulsory? Or is it enough just to READ, and the content shouldn't be dictated, either by tradition or publishers who make deals with school boards? What have you read that you think would be on a "canon" and what have you read that wouldn't be, but should be?

Talk to me....


Anonymous nhfalcon said...

Well, S, you alrady know how I feel about the LOTR - a completely overlooked book in every high school and most colleges, IMHO. You may not know all the books you think you should, but you know more than I do, and my BA is in English. You've forgotten more books than I'll ever know. RE: the movie "Last of the Mohicans" - I thought it was incredibly well shot, very visually stunning, with a great score behind it (especially the music playing while Daniel Day-Lewis and his Indian father and brother chase after the chief bad-guy Indian towards the end), but it somehow left me feeling it was incomplete. Now, I've never read the book either, so maybe this is how the book is, but rather than a discernible beginning-middle-ending setup, I got the feeling that I was watching somebody's story that I just happened to pick up at Point X and just happened to put down at Point Y. Maybe that's just me - I'm a different breed of cat.

March 02, 2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Chili said...

No, Falcon, I think you're feelings about the flow of "Mohicans" is right on. According to

"The Last of the Mohicans is the 1826 sequel to the now less-famous The Pioneers (1823) and the prequel to The Prairie (1827). It is set at the time of the war between France and England in North America and, as the novel begins, we are already three years into the conflict."

I'm betting that's a lot of where that feeling of disjointedness comes from. I would have liked a little more background about Hawkeye; he was a fascinating character and I felt like I never quite got to know (and care about) him enough for my liking. I'm wondering if my unattentive viewing had something to do with that, though.

I'm still thinking about this whole idea of books that "should" be read. I really love the idea of having common experiences with people through texts. An example? Bowyer was trying to describe a new co-worker to me not too long ago and, at a loss for an adequate description, told me that he was "an Ichabod Crane kind of guy". BAM! I knew right away what we were dealing with. I kind of lament the loss of that kind of connectedness and, in that way, really do think the idea of a "canon" is a good one.

Then I think about all the limitations that a canon sets on us and I'm not so sure that it's the way to go. SO much good stuff is overlooked (LOTR, for example, and a lot of writing that happened after, say, 1890), and I think that a lot of the typical canonical works are, in a way, outdated for modern students. Yes, I know, many of them contain themes that are just as relavent today as they were in the 19th century - I'm having my kids work with Frankenstein, for crying out loud - but much about those types of works puts kids off; the language, the roundabout storytelling, the formality of the structures.

I'm rolling the idea of my own personal canon in my head. I'm pretty sure that it would include quite a few of the "great" works - a bunch of stuff from Poe, some Hawthorne (my geeky English teacher side is telling me to admit here that one of my most beloved pieces of writing is a bit from the Customs House by Hawthorne), Frankenstein, Hamlet, and some others. Then I'd turn toward the more modern works. While I know that the length would make kids apopleptic, I'd want to work Roots into the curriculum. And A Dry White Season. The Secret Life of Bees, Ahab's Wife (though I'd probably tie that in with Moby Dick).

My point is that, as a lit. student, it's almost expected that I should have reverant respect for the canon. I'm not quite there. Yes, there are a lot of canonical works that I have a particular affinity for, but there are others that I'd just as soon never have to read again.

JEEZ, that was wordy! Maybe I should have written this as a post rather than a comment, huh?

March 02, 2006 9:58 PM  
Blogger Kizz said...

Yes, I think there should be common works, I think it's the only way we can make learning equivalent, by getting a lot of people to look at one thing and find so many different things in it. That being said I don't think an education should be all made up of canonical works. Branching out, having regional differences or just preferences is good.

On a purely personal note, I'm a kid who CHOSE to do independent study in HS on Les Miserable if you'd made me read LoTR in High School there's a better than average chance I would have dropped out instead. Press send on your hate mail now.

March 02, 2006 11:06 PM  
Anonymous nhfalcon said...

Your experience with Bowyer and his Ichabod Crane reference, S, is interesting because that's kind of Bowyer's whole philosophy behind education in the first place. He told me once that he thought that the point behind everyone getting pretty much the same education really had nothing to do with getting them ready to enter the work force, but rather to give them all a common pool of knowledge from which to draw when communicating with each other. If neither you or Bowyer had had a fairly similar education, then either he wouldn't have been able to make the reference or you wouldn't have gotten it. As you said in your response to my first post, perhaps that is a legitimate justification for a canon.

On the other hand, if you operate under the theory that the purpose behind teaching literature is to get the idea of particular themes across to people, then I don't think the book being used to get the point across should matter one bit. If the Bard works, use him. If he doesn't, don't.

Perhaps a balance somewhere in the middle would be best, if the school you wind up teaching at allows you that kind of leeway.

March 05, 2006 9:36 PM  

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