Recently a student announced that English class is wonderful because “All we do is talk about books”.
That is not quite all we do. English is, above all, about learning how to read carefully, and learning how to speak and write critically about that which was read. Although we try to choose books that are interesting in their own right, English may be the only subject in which what we study is not nearly so important as how we study it. An attentive English student will complete Twelfth Grade being able to read anything well, to appreciate what a writer has to say, and his or her eloquence in saying it. Students who can read novels, poems and plays critically and perceptively can also recognise dubious points in a politician’s, or a lawyer’s (or even a teacher’s) argument. Students who can read well are also generally able to speak and write well. Through extensive reading, they have developed a superior level of reading comprehension and are, therefore, able to construct a coherent and convincing argument.
Above all, we concentrate on reading in English so that students will want to read on their own. On this subject, no one is more eloquent than the English novelist Virginia Woolf:
Yet who reads to bring about an end, however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practise because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards-their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble-the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”
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