Franz Kafka wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.” I once shared this sentence with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation.
We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men. When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she got out of her chair to take a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”
But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with imprisoned parents, abusive parents, irresponsible parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless; kids who grew up in violent neighborhoods. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic—the giving way of dreams to fate.
For the last seven years, I have worked as a reading enrichment teacher, reading classic works of literature with small groups of students from grades six to eight. I originally proposed this idea to my headmaster after learning that a former excellent student of mine had transferred out of a selective high school—one that often attracts the literary-minded children of Manhattan’s upper classes—into a less competitive setting. The daughter of immigrants, with a father in prison, she perhaps felt uncomfortable with her new classmates. I thought additional “cultural capital” could help students like her develop better in high school, where they would unavoidably meet, perhaps for the first time, students who came from homes lined with bookshelves, whose parents had earned Ph.D.’s.
Along with Of Mice and Men, my groups read: Sounder, The Red Pony, Lord of the Flies, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. The students didn’t always read from the expected point of view. About The Red Pony, one student said, “it’s about being a man; it’s about manliness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read The Grapes of Wrath and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical view was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year former students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their first year in college as a result of the classes.
Year after year, however, we are increasing the number of practice tests. We are trying to teach students to read increasingly complex texts, not for emotional punch but for text complexity. Yet, we cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that ignore their hearts. We are teaching them that words do no. amaze but confuse. We may succeed in raising test scores, but we will fail to teach that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them.
36. The underlined words in Paragraph 1 probably mean that a book helps to ______.
A. realize our dreams B. give support to our life
C. smooth away difficulties D. awake our emotions
37. Why were the students able to understand the novel Of Mice and Men?
A. Because they spent much time reading it.
B. Because they had read the novel before.
C. Because they came from a public school.
D. Because they had similar life experiences.
38. The girl left the selective high school possibly because ______.
A. she was a literary-minded girl B. her parents were immigrants
C. she couldn’t fit in with her class D. her father was then in prison
39. To the author’s surprise, the students read the novels ______.
A. creatively B. passively
C. repeatedly D. carelessly
40. The author writes the passage mainly to ______.
A. introduce classic works of literature
B. advocate teaching literature to touch the heart
C. argue for equality among high school students
D. defend the current testing system