The first day I read the syllabus to Prof. Mueller’s English 464 class, I was suprised to see the book Hunger Games as one of our required books. What could Dr. Mueller possibly want us to do with this book? I had an inkling that this book had something to do with the application of popular literature in an academic setting as a method to encourage a love of reading in students, and I was immediately intrigued. As a huge fan of Harry Potter in middle school, I have seen how certain popular novels can get a segment of the younger population reading that would normally never pick up a book. I even managed to get my younger brother reading the Harry Potter books–one of the few books I think he’s ever read cover-to-cover outside of school–and he even continued the whole series despite being teased by his friends for being a “nerd.” And, despite Harry Potter’s label as a “children’s book,” the series does deal with some suprisingly adult concepts: love, death, depression, discrimination, governmental suppression and even latent homosexuality (yes, Dumbledore IS gay).
So, naturally, I was interested to read this article by Mike Roberts from the TCTE website, which is about applying Young Adult novels to curriculum in school. Interestingly, this article wrote about applying popular literature to subjects outside of English, like science and math, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Teaching literature in a math class? It never occurred to me.
However, I can easily see how this makes sense. Reading is an important skill for children to learn and literature is always valuable in academia. So why not combine good literature with other subjects? I remember vividly taking a Biology class in high school and excelling in it simply because the textbook was well-written and intriguing, not because I was good at science or even interested in it. Powerful, interesting, well-written literature has the power to engage students in subjects that they would otherwise find uninteresting.
The author of the article cites several popular books that can be applied to science, history and math classes, which is helpful. Her guide to getting other teachers to apply literature to their classes is a bit strange and sneaky, however: I doubt that any teacher that would refuse to apply literature to their classroom would also read a Young Adult book on their free time simply because some other teacher suggested it, and then magically become convinced to use it as part of their curriculum. In fact, I think most teachers would resent that kind of condescension. If I wanted to work with another teacher to apply literature to a non-English subject, I would be upfront about my intentions. The author’s idea of “co-teaching” was one that I found especially exciting. I f I were an English teahcer, I would love to have a history or science teacher visit my class and explain some of the aspects of the plot of the novel in a deeper way. Likewise, I would love to help a science or math teacher use an interesting piece of literature to make his own subject more interesting or informative.
I still am not sure what Prof. Muller intends us to do with The Hunger Games. However, suffice it to say that I am even more interested to find out.
– Mary Beth