An instructor and avid reader shares lessons from years spent introducing children to classic literature.
In this education book, Pathan (Raman and Sunny: Middle School Blues, 2015, etc.) combines three previously published works into a single volume. The first presents arguments in favor of encouraging young people to read the canon of Western literature; the second offers strategies Pathan has used to develop enthusiasm for the classics among her students; and the third details the author’s experiences teaching and learning about books. Pathan’s own love of literature is evident from the first animated pages (“Classics therefore are like bound movie scripts for our brain production house”). The rationale for teaching the classics is a familiar one—improving writing skills, providing moral lessons, understanding the human condition—but also emphasizes the opportunities for fostering a love of reading among even the youngest pupils. Pathan’s strategies for turning students into fans of the classics are wide-ranging and constitute the most useful elements of the work, addressing ways of encouraging reluctant readers and students whose interests lie in other subjects while advocating the cross-generational sharing of books. The memoir elements are often charming, like Pathan’s account of how Frankenstein helped her “cope with” science when her teachers did not, her gratitude to Oscar Wilde for giving her a broader understanding of sexuality, and the letters of appreciation she writes to former students. While the volume’s focus is on classic literature, Pathan avoids demonizing more contemporary books and discusses her admiration of those works as well. The account overreaches at times (as in the suggestion that “tribal culture” is something students can learn about from Robinson Crusoe ) and never addresses the lack of diversity inherent in a canon drawn almost entirely from European and American novelists writing in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By eliding entirely the debate over which works should be considered classics, the book avoids a crucial question teachers must wrestle with, thus limiting the effectiveness of an otherwise comprehensive and appealing discussion of literary education.
An enthusiastic and engaging—but somewhat narrow—argument in favor of teaching beloved books.