Thursday, February 26, 2015
Choose your adventure!
Hike in the Grand Canyon or look at Grand Canyon wallpaper.
Gaze at a Monet waterlily painting right up close or look at a reproduction on a postage stamp.
Hear your favorite song performed by your favorite artist or by a twelve-year-old doing karaoke.
Most of us would choose the adventure that brings us face-to-face with the real thing, which makes me wonder why so many students read online summaries of literature instead of encountering the actual text. Why read a prosaic, tepid, watered-down version instead of the work itself in all its glory?
I've ranted on this before both in and out of class, but I've never found an effective way to persuade students that they're cheating themselves out of amazing adventures. When asked why they prefer online summaries, they mention textbook costs or time management problems or other priorities, but what it comes down to is that online summaries are easier.
Right, but here's the thing: Looking at wallpaper is certainly easier than hiking in the Grand Canyon, but only a fool would claim that the experiences are equally valuable. Likewise great art: it's easier to get hold of a postage stamp, but how much is lost in the reproduction? The pale reflection of the thing simply cannot recreate the experience of the thing itself.
My students don't seem to feel any sense of loss when they avoid reading literature. After all, they're getting a quick and easy rundown of the important characters, plot elements, and themes in the book. What could they possibly be missing?
They're missing everything that distinguishes the real thing from its shadow: intensity of color, integrity of line, clarity of voice; the sweat that results from an uphill slog, the quickening that occurs when a sight touches the soul, the stirring that inspires creativity.
Why would anyone forego that kind of adventure in favor of a postage-stamp-sized experience? And what can I do to persuade them to stop?