I just spent the day at a professional development meeting with my entire thirteen-school organization. There were well over a hundred teachers present, all of us trying to figure out how to become better teachers. I went to a workshop on teaching writing.
While the workshop I went to wasn't entirely riveting (it was actually pretty dry), it did get me thinking about how and why we bother teaching literature and reading. Why does it matter what happened in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, or in The Giver. I mean really - is it essential to the development and job readiness of these children that they know the details of plot and setting?
No, maybe not, but literature is about far more than learning stories. It's about learning to think, learning to analyze and synthesize information. In an age when information is readily accessible by a million and a half venues, some credible, many not, we have to find a way to teach students how to analyze information critically. And that process starts in literature. We learn and teach how to see and express the big ideas, how to find and support with evidential details. And those aren't skills that get lost once students leave the classroom - critical analysis (not just literary) is a life skill. The responsibility is daunting, but the necessity is irrefutable.