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Why Teachers Shouldn't Ignore Literature's Emotional Lessons For Students

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 (Sam Greenhalgh/)

Sometimes English class can seem like an endless litany of literary devices and structured argumentative essays. But that's not why most English teachers love what they teach -- they love the way art reflects real life in all its confusion, pain and difficulty. In fact, some argue that the emotional side of literature should be explicitly taught as part of the curriculum.

English teacher Andrew Simmons describes both the opportunity to connect with teenagers through literary emotion and why many teachers shy away from it in his article for The Atlantic. He writes:

It balloons into a broader discussion about the purpose of an English education. English teachers—at least the ones I know—want to churn out thinkers who wield power through language. We want them to love books, but also to survive. We want them to read a lease in 10 years and know what they’re getting into. We also want to turn out good citizens who practice in the streets and at the office what they identify as moral and good in class, people who do not cheat, manipulate, abuse, and unfairly judge others. English teachers, it seems, are in a unique position to impose some degree of emotional and moral rigor on the curriculum.

Yet this program of emotional and moral rigor is informal, if not imaginary, and entirely unstandardized. I don’t know many teachers who prefer not to have control over what and how they teach, but if one recognizes that literature helps people understand one another and can improve our individual and collective health, it’s a bit telling to see this prerogative unmentioned in the standards providing guidance to teachers.


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