UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Restless Soul

Turn off the cell phone. Put away the iPod. Your language skills are suffering.

By Sara Jewell

Being a substitute teacher is difficult enough: Sit down. Stop talking. Get to work. Stop talking. Now it’s also: Turn off the cell phone. Put away the iPod.

Having filled in for a senior English teacher at the local high school over the past eight months, I am not surprised that, overall, language skills are suffering. There is a certain amount of self-centredness expected of teenagers, but what worries me is the kind of ignorance that is emerging (one male student replied, “But it’s my dad,” when I told him not to answer his cell phone in the middle of first period). In the 20 years since I was a high school student, technology has transformed the education of adolescents, and not necessarily for the better. Even computers, billed as a “must-have” for every student, seem to encourage plagiarism rather than independent thought and creativity. This could be responsible in part for the one question I hear most frequently: “Why do we need to know this?”

How do I convince these students that the study of literature is worthwhile? That their lives will be enhanced by it? I tell them the characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales share characteristics with people we know today; Shakespeare understood teenage relationships better than any parent; and anyone can write poetry since there are no rules. I tell them that knowing these stories and these characters will help them make sense of the world in which they live and will help them understand human nature. I tell them knowledge, even the kind from short stories and poems, breaks down the limitations imposed by ignorance.

I was quite excited about a Garden of Eden motif in a movie we’d just watched. The male and female leads had escaped from their artificial world and returned to a long-abandoned Earth. It was, like, so obvious.

“I don’t believe in that,” Brittany said.

“You don’t have to believe in it,” I replied. “It’s a literary allusion.”

“But I don’t believe in that. I don’t know anything about it.”

I realized she didn’t want to learn anything about it. End of the discussion. Later, while thinking about this lost teaching moment, it occurred to me that the study of literature is the same as our study of faith. As teenagers, many of us whined, “Why do I have to go to church?” We asked why we needed to study the Bible. How can the life of a man who lived 2,000 years ago in another country of another religion have anything to do with my life now? Like any student faced with T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a churchgoer asks, “How is this relevant to my life now?”

If you have ever been betrayed by a friend, you will relate to Shakespeare’s plays and to the story of Jesus’ final days. We study literature and read the Bible because their plots and settings, themes and ideas enrich our lives. By broadening our knowledge — reading Beowulf and Animal Farm, reading Harpur and Hitchens, Lewis and Lamott — we receive information that helps us figure out not just what we believe, but why. American novelist Chris Adrian says that he writes “mostly to try to make sense of my own petty and profound misery, and I fail every time, but every time I come away with a peculiar sort of contentment, as if it was just the trying that mattered.”

Now substitute “he writes” with “I believe.” And so this is my answer to that frequently asked question: “Why not?”
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image