I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my freshmen. For some of them, it’s going pretty well. The rest of them, though, are just not that into it, and I’m trying to figure out, five chapters in, how to head those kids off at the Apathy Pass.
The thing is, I remember being a teenager and thinking that everything my English teachers gave me was dumb (I don’t remember if I used the word “lame” when I was a teenager, but that was the general idea I was circling around). I remember having to read A Separate Peace, for example, and thinking that there was nothing in the novel that touched me; I had no connection to the book and, accordingly, I had no interest in it. I started reading the novel again last month (I’ve since stopped because I switched that novel in my junior curriculum, but that’s neither here nor there), and I remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed the book as far as I read it. I don’t know what exactly about me had changed, but clearly something had; I found myself settling nicely into the narrative and really enjoying the ride.
I’m trying to apply that to Mockingbird. I read it as an adult, though, so I don’t have the same experience of slogging unwillingly through it as a teenager that I did with other novels. I loved this book from the first chapter – the language delights me, the story unfolds at a perfect pace and pitch, the characters are distinct and delightful, and the payoff is complicated and sublime and gorgeous. My kids, though, are not seeing it as I do; they’re frustrated by the language, they’re bored with the story, they don’t appreciate the subtlety of the text.
What I’m wondering is this; is it possible to teach someone to appreciate art? I can MAKE them read it (well, to a point), but can I teach them to LIKE it? I think that I teach best that which I love – I know that my enthusiasm has a tendency to rub off on certain kids – but I want to know if there’s more to it than just loving something; is there some way of conveying the beauty of a thing to someone through teaching? Are there things I can deliberately do to help my kids understand and appreciate the beauty of a thing? What do you think?