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Hi, Dave (Mr. Eggers?).
I’m a private school teacher in Charleston, SC (where we REALLY want an
826…it’s time you all invaded the South).  I’ve just been informed that
next year I’m teaching 11th grade British Literature to THE CLASS.  You
know, the kids that are jerks, that always get in trouble, that get more for
allowance than I get in a paycheck…
So really, I can’t wait to have these kids in my classroom—because those
kind of students are always my favorite.  Well, except for the money thing.
But the more I think about teaching these badasses Beowulf, The Faery Queen,
and Wordsworth…I get a little down.  It’s hard to get kids to read these
days—there’s even a book out now called Readicide, and I believe it.  So I
want to help in my tiny way to turn the tide, but I’m unsure where to
begin.  I certainly don’t want to give up before I’ve stepped into class.  I
want to believe that books and words matter to them as much as they do to
me, but how on earth do I show them that with a curriculum like this?  Am I
just going to contribute to the downfall of the printed word?  Could I be
more dramatic?
Thanks for reading this drivel.  Come visit us in Charleston soon.
—Beth Ables


Hey there —
Well, you’re in a bind. I personally think Wordsworth isn’t the best/first choice for high schoolers. I didn’t connect with his work when I was 17. It’s very difficult. When you’re 17, you want something you feel. You want to feel emotionally attached. You want that writer to speak to you about something relevant to your life. So I always recommend having kids read stuff that engages them on a subject matter level. If your students think British lit from the 1800s is boring in principal, Wordsworth, no matter how you teach it, isn’t going to change their minds… They need to build up to Wordsworth, I think. I’ve seen teachers give their students the ability to choose 1/3 of their reading list themselves. Even if it’s a biography of Shaq. Doesn’t matter. Getting them to read/love reading is the first thing. From there, you can build up to Wordsworth and the like. But the problem, I fear, sometimes, is that we bombard kids with the heaviest and least-relevant-to-their-lives work, like Hawthorne and Melville, etc, instead of say, Junot Diaz. Why not assign equally literary contemporary work, so they can think of lit as not merely the province of dead white guys from Britain? I don’t know… There’s got to be a balance struck. Hope this is of some help…
D