My hatred of English class

This is a rant.

So I was reading the Iliad yesterday, (for the simple reason that I like the Iliad,) laughing over the section in book I where Hera and Zeus are bickering, and I thought, “I am so glad I have never had to write an English paper on this.” I am perfectly happy discussing a book, writing a review that I hope will help someone else decide if they want to read the book, or highlighting things that I think are particularly interesting about a book. But I hate English papers. You know what they say about explaining a joke; being forced to spend multiple pages explaining why I think Homer intends us to find the passage amusing kills the whole experience. (And then getting a curt note from the teacher to the effect that this is really not what she was looking for just adds insult to injury.) No one but my Greek prof ever wanted to hear that great literature was supposed to be funny.

Obviously my ability to read and write English lies somewhere above average but below extraordinary; sufficient, you might think, for the average English class.

I did not do well in English. Average, not well. I spent most of English class wondering why we had to destroy such nice books by writing such god-awful papers about them. No, I do not care about the symbolism of the color green in Jane Eyre; I do not care about the grand themes in the Scarlet Letter. There has always been a judgment rolled up in this, an indication that the way I experience and internalize and interpret novels is somehow incorrect, and the teacher’s version is the correct way to do it.

While there are better and worse ways to teach math, I accept that the math I did in highschool and college was “real math,” and that anyone faced with calculating when a plane going 500 miles an hour will get to Detroit will do much the same calculation as I did. To the extend that I use math in my adult life, it is generally performed exactly like I was taught to do it, or else I can figure it out based on what I have already learned.

But my adult understanding and use of English (and literature) has nothing at all to do with anything we were taught back in highschool English.

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7 thoughts on “My hatred of English class

  1. Would your perspective be different if you were trying to write great literature, and thus analyzing past masters to learn their techniques?

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    • My other hobby is (and was) writing fiction, and highschool English class was negatively helpful in that regard. Writing fiction is a specialized skill.

      Learning grammar in middle school English was useful, though.

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  2. Having studied literature in grad school, I can verify that formal study of literature is pretty much useless crap. Study of rhetoric is worthwhile, but literature’s primary value is snob value.

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