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Just a few thoughts of my own to throw out--I'm an
English teacher, so I thought I'd weigh in on the
subject.  To preface this further, I teach at an
alternative school (a therapeutic boarding school)
with at-risk teens who have been sent away from their
families to live here for up to 2 years.  So, my
students are not necessarily the norm.  Many of the
families that send them are wealthy as well, as the
school is a private organization.

There are more things to consider than what has been
mentioned so far.  For instance, many English classes
(World Lit, American Lit, Brit Lit) are survey courses
and deal with a particular period in time.  By their
very nature, many YA titles do not fit here.
Obviously, we can supplement other texts with YA
titles that are set in that time period, but as far as
giving an example of typical lit from a particular
period, in many cases, no such titles exist.  There is
something to be said for literary history, just as in
history in general, and what we read today comes from
a long line of changes, developments, and authors.  To
further complicate matters, English teachers are often
working to just get works from marginalized female and
minority writers to be accepted into the canon, let
alone YA titles--sometimes you have to pick your
battles.  For me, I would rather get some of the
minority and feminist literature in there than do
battle for YA titles that may be out of favor in 10

The other concern is that, even though I am at an
alternative school, there is a huge college prep
focus.  Many parents express concern that their
children will not be able keep up with the demands of
college.  Some of these "classic" works will be
assumed at the collegiate level, and students missing
these can sometimes find it hard to catch up or to be
on the same page as their professor or peers.  I love
YA lit, personally, and find it to be full of
pertinent, complex, and fascinating ideas, but let's
face it--much of it is written at a lower reading
level than some of the "classic" lit.  Arguably, there
are exceptions, but by and large, that has been my own
personal observation.

Even more complex is the choice you have to make with
your literature.  It's one thing to have something in
a library that is available for perusal--it's quite
another to select something to teach that students are
expected to read, participate in discussion about, and
write on, something to make a focus for a large group
of people.  Although many YA titles may be "cheerier"
in the end, if you will, many also contain
controversial issues in the telling.  Many classic
novels do as well, but somehow it seems easier to
defend a work if you have time on your side.  Perhaps
you consider this to be a cop-out, but I see it as a
rather unpleasant reality.  Many parents are more
willing to accept something that they also had to read
in school.

Although a book's "depression" factor should not
decide whether or not it is a viable choice for an
English class, many books that have proved themselves
to be appealing, or at least a source of fascination,
for years, tend to be in this category.  Perhaps that
says something more about human nature than it does
about schools and classes.  I have just finisehd
teaching The Great Gatsby in my American Lit classes,
and the students really engaged with it.  It's one of
those "depressing" books in which the main character
dies and all the people you hate end up ok.  But it's
amazing, lyric prose that exemplifies in a profound
way what people were thinking and feeling in the
period following World War I.  It has sparkling
descriptions of characters and startlingly good
dialogue.  It talks about hopes and dreams for the
future, the futility of depending on false realities
for your happiness, and how things in life don't
always work out the way you want them to.  Certainly,
there are cheery works out there, too--I've taught The
Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream in
my Shakespeare class this semester, and the exuberance
of the Romantic writers in American lit spills out
without even trying.  Teachers also teach what they
love--maybe we're all a bunch of moody poets, but I
love things like Poe, Faulkner, Joyce, The Picture of
Dorian Gray, and, yes, even The Lord of the Flies.
Some of the most influential books are those that
reveal a nasty part of life, that cause us to step
back and recognize the injustice or the tyranny or the
profound ugliness that we see before us and make us
want to do something to change that.

Well, I'll get off my soapbox now (sorry about the
length)--just some thoughts on a sunny Wednesday in
Montana after watching Romeo and Juliet and reading
The Great Gatsby.


Sarah Milligan, Librarian/English teacher
Summit Preparatory School
Kalispell, MT

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