DailyBlog : Choosing A Mandatory Reading Book

*As a belated 2015 New Years Resolution, I decided I would write a daily (or, almost daily, I know some days I just won’t be able to find the time) blog answering a thought provoking question from a long list of questions I found here in a quest of self exploration.

Today’s Chosen Question :
If you could choose one book as a mandatory read for all high school students, which book would you choose?

That’s actually a really tough question. All of the obvious books, classic lit with very important lessons are already often used as mandatory high school reading, i.e. To Kill A Mockingbird, etc. I’m going to be a question-rebel and take this in a different direction. I don’t think the question should be what book should be mandatory reading, but more, how can you teach a lesson about a book in a way where the lesson of the book sticks in students minds and makes them better people?

In sixth grade, I had this awesome social studies teacher who was a bald, short guy in his fifties. One day we walked into a classroom and most of the desks were gone. There were about six desks, two huge comfy bean-bag chairs,and then just empty carpet space. We all had to pick pieces of paper out of a hat. Most of the papers said “poor” a handful (six) said “middle class” and two said “rich.” The rich people got the bean-bag chairs. The middle-class got the desks and the rest of the class (most of the class) had to sit on the floor. He taught as normal mostly for the rest of the week, only the rich people got to do whatever they wanted; drink soda or eat in class, get up and go to the bathroom whenever they wanted, etc. The middle class had to ask permission, sometimes they would be granted said permission and sometimes not. If a poor person asked to use the bathroom he would literally refuse to let us go. Parents started complaining by Wednesday day wanting to know why their child was being treated poorly in class. Friday morning he finally said, “Don’t you understand yet? This is how America works.” And suddenly we ALL understood the lesson, and it was so much more relevant and potent than trying to explain how the class system works by say teaching it out of a textbook.

Later that year, we walked into class on a Monday and each had to pick either a blue, or green ribbon. We had to wear the ribbons on our wrist and had no clue what they were for. Similar to the class-system lesson, our teacher was kind and granted privilege to one group (I don’t remember which color) and treating the other group like crap. This was a lesson about racism, and until you are discriminated against, treated like shit for NO REASON you don’t truly understand racism. (Let me clarify, as a white American I would feel pompous to ever claim I understand racism from the receiving end) but the point and impact of the lesson truly stuck with me. In all of my elementary and High School years, that its the ONLY teacher that actually had an impact on the values and beliefs I try and live my life by in my adult-present.

The relevancy of this to said question is that I think that assigning a required reading book and making kids write a book report on it is not going to make the important lesson and brilliant literature actually effect the way they think and see the world. You have to integrate the book, or the lesson of the book, into their lives for them to truly benefit from it. Theres millions of books that should be required, some that already are and some that have yet to become classic lit but you can assign ten amazing timeless classics to a student to read throughout the year and if they read it because they have to and write a report in whatever fashion they think the teacher wants because they want a good grade, you more or less just wasted the students time and the authors talent.

2 Replies to “DailyBlog : Choosing A Mandatory Reading Book”

  1. I… have to confess that I feel kind of bad for you, now. That social studies teacher basically propagandized you, and in a pretty ham-handed way, too. That this is the lesson that stuck with you and that you’ve incorporated is also pretty unfortunate. That… is neither how America nor socioeconomics works, nor is it at all a good way of understanding discrimination. It’s never being treated bad ‘for no reason,’ it’s a broad-based reaction to identifiers that are seen as undesirable or that have negative social connotations. Skin color is associated with ingrained cultural inferiority. Orientation is associated with depravity and being ‘unnatural.’ Gender is associated with social, sexual, and economic inferiority. To act, in either example, as though the results are arbitrary is to really mischaracterize the situation and very likely reduce the drive to address or change it in any constructive way.

    I understand that trying to teach concepts like that to sixth graders is hard, but… that’s why I argue he probably shouldn’t have. It reminds me of being shown shockumentary films about how much rain forest was being lost- ludicrous figure, something like the size of Texas or something every single year- and how of course, being an impressionable kid, I bought it. Wasn’t until later discussion that I realized the figure was basically hokum.

    Which I suppose goes into a bit of a cautionary note to your answer to the question. There are a lot of thought-provoking books out there, no doubt. Finding ways to integrate them into student thought is likely a good thing. But it might also be a good idea to ‘tier’ them a bit more, so students have the mental growth to tackle other books. After all, the goal really shouldn’t be to expand their horizons per se, but rather to give a love of reading, so that they’ll have a desire to keep reading and learning and expanding on their own. Subtle distinction, but perhaps an important one, mm?


    1. All good points, although I was speaking from the perspective of a twelve year old learning a lesson that equated to my age at the time. With further education and life experience I understand that everything is much more complicated than what I described, but my point was that it was a basis on which to grow that very basic first bit of understanding that without that teacher, I would not have had. He made me think, he made me feel, he made me think about what I felt. And relating it back to literature as well as fully agreeing with how you ended your comment, to truly want to learn and understand the world around you (or the prose in front of your nose) you have to be able to join with it, to allow it to make you think and to feel. Thats where the love of reading comes from. At least, it did for me.


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