Talking to your Kids about English Class
There comes a point in every high school student’s life when they wonder why they have to take English. “I know how to speak,” they’ll say. “And I know how to write.” How is reading The Stone Angel or another Shakespeare play going to help me?”
And you can say, “Glad you asked.”
Three reasons to appreciate this.
Firstly, when you have a job and a spouse and kids of your own and a dog and the gym, all you’ll want is the time to sit in a chair and read a book. So take advantage now.
Secondly, your writing style is shaped by what you read, and the curriculum is designed to expose you to the best of as many styles as possible. We talked about The Stone Angel up top. Margaret Laurence (writing as Hagar Currie Shipley) tells it like it is — exactly what people look for from CVs, cover letters, emails and texts. But then you’ll also read The Grapes of Wrath, which will train your vocabulary to describe the things you see. When you’re presenting to a room full of clients, you’ll want to be able to spin a yard descriptively. As for Shakespeare — any high-schooler who reads Hamlet will know, no matter what they’re feeling, that they’re not alone.
Thirdly, reading gives you practice reading well-written, well-edited English. The more you see
to, too and two being used correctly, the less likely you are to use it incorrectly. Same with your / you’re, it’s / its and heroine / heroin.
Poetry is about finding the best way to say what you want to say within the confines of an unforgiving construct. If you’re writing in iambic pentameter (ba DUM, ba DUM, ba DUM, ba DUM, baDUM), you have to know the word “wonderful” won’t work in your piece, but that “sublime” would.
In the real world you won’t find cadence-related restrictions, but character counts and word counts are everywhere. Poetry trains your mind to manage those restrictions and still impress. Your tweets, posts and blogs are all better when they’re shorter.
By dissecting a piece of writing, you’re mastering the art of thinking, reflecting and analyzing. Judging the quality of an author’s attempt at pathetic fallacy, metaphors and similes helps you judge the quality of any type of art later on in life.
Whether you’re evaluating a potential supplier’s pitch to you, engaging in conversation on a first date, strolling through an art gallery or in the audience at your nephew’s school play, having the ability to thoughtfully consider what you’ve seen and heard, and deciding if you like it, is key to both your understanding of the world and always having something to talk about.
Dan’s favourite English teacher was Ms. O’Brien at York Mills Collegiate in Toronto. His essays always smelled like cigarettes when he got them back, but the comments were always on point.
Who was your favourite English teacher and why? Let us know in the comments.