In Defense of Teaching Troubled Texts in Troubling Times

by Deborah Appleman

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
—James Baldwin

As the summer wanes, we teachers slowly turn our focus to the beginning of school. For teachers of literature, that often means a trip to the dusty bookroom to decide what texts teachers and students should read together throughout the year. This is, or should be, a complicated decision, a thoughtful calibration of text and context, of who our students are and what kind of reading would serve them best as we encourage their personal and intellectual development.  After the obligatory quick count of paperback and perma-bound copies of literary texts, we consider factors of readability, literary merit, and relevance. We re-read state standards and confer with our fellow teachers about our school’s curriculum. This fall, however, there are even more factors to consider as we attempt to make our best pedagogical decisions about what to teach and why.

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