It's time to throw away our SparkNotes and change the way high school studies literature

October 18, 2022

___ directly connects to ___, leading (character A) to (some symbol discussed in class).

To create this sense of (whatever discussed in class), the author uses (blah, blah, and blah) to foreshadow (blah, blah, and blah).

These are examples of the basic templates for all of the high school analysis essays I’ve ever written and ever read.

Has writing analytical essays for school ruined our love of storytelling? Think about it: We just write fluff and thoughtless words like “therefore” and “symbolizes,” basically repeating what we talked about in class, word for word.

Every time you have to read a book, it feels like you’re rushing to do it before the class, on the bus, pulling out the SparkNotes, and underlining one passage to “active read.” And when we write, we focus on commas and semicolons; what is a semicolon again? What happens when we diminish literature to how easy it is to analyze?

Storytelling is a way to better see ourselves and the world that surrounds us, but we have dulled our writing into a simple format. We’ve taken the art and thrown it away, and instead, we’re just trying to get through the assignment as fast as possible.

Do English classes have to be like this? What is the line between faking an essay? I think I’ve jumped it many times.

We used to make iMovies and short plays. Now, we struggle to think of a cohesive sentence that embodies the work we’re reading. What kind of justice does our analysis of Steinbeck and Melville do to the book? Perhaps these projects are assigned as the simplest way to crack open the meaning behind the book, but what about trying to experience the ideas behind it, like in elementary school, when we’d create art projects and poems about the heart of the novel. High school analysis papers are like feigning excitement over a band your friend likes, but you’re really not that into.

Why aren’t we writing about the major ideas that inspired a work of literature? Why are we having the same conversation about books that are so good that classes read it again and again and again … and again and again, until a different meaning to the book is preposterous since it’s already been taught this way for a hundred years.

By understanding the major ideas behind works of literature, we can have a better understanding of our world, and maybe even share concerns and worries with the author. When we don’t connect old literature to events happening in our everyday lives, concepts in the book seem far away from us, and the human part loses its prevalence. There are hundreds of different takes on books, yet one exact way to teach it. The curriculum isn’t circled around the enjoyability or personal aspect of a book, but about getting through to certain ideas.

In hopes of achieving ___, (character A) does (this, that, and that), ultimately resulting in the character’s development.

In conclusion, the correlation between (whatever you just said, which you can barely remember because you wrote this in fifteen minutes falling asleep in the quiet room), leads to the destruction of (some major theme).

What happened to the life of a story? The story that when you tell it, you have everyone at the edge of their seat, breath held, leaning in, and only you know what happens next. The story with characters so alive, they jump out of the page and walk home with you. What happened to discussions that aren’t just summary? What happened to Billy Collins’ “they begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means.” Let’s analyze that line.

I want to want to write about stories. But, I guess for now, I’ll pull up SparkNotes and use my template.