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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Soliloquy from English Class

I like my English class. I have a good teacher -- she's very funny and leads good discussions. We read good books and reenact scenes from A Christmas Carol and The Giver. Almost everybody in my class says that they like the class.

The case was not true last year.

In sixth grade English, most people hated the class. I didn't even like the class. And English is one of my favorite classes. And there was no real reason people hated the class. Our teacher was nice. She was funny. We read pretty decent books, our projects weren't too bad, and we had good discussions. But there was something....wrong with the class.

Once again it's story time.

A friend of mine and I were standing outside the classroom. He asked me if I had done the reading. I said yes, and that the book we were reading (A Single Shard) was pretty good. My friend nodded and said he thought it was okay. We stood there for a few minutes and finally my friend said, "Do you like English class?"
I shook my head.
He looked surprised. We'd been friends for a long time and he knew I liked to read.
"Why not?"
I shrugged. "It's kind of...boring."
He nodded. "Yeah, I don't like it either."

The bell rang and we walked inside. I actually remember what we did in class that day --  worksheets on the characters and answering some discussion questions about the book's theme. It wasn't that hard for me.

But it was boring.

Our teacher tried. I'm not here to put the blame on anyone, and she was a nice lady. But it was still boring.

I met my friend again as we walked to lunch. We got in the pasta line and grabbed our trays.
"Man, that was boring," he said as we walked down the line. He got his pasta and a breadstick and I got my pasta and breadstick.
"It was."
"It'd be cooler if we did something crazy."
I laughed. "Like dress up as flamingos or whatever?"
"Maybe not that crazy. But make it like, interesting."
"Interesting is good."

We got our food, sat down, and ate. The bell rang after about thirty minutes and we stood up and left.  The second part of English was after lunch. We spent the rest of the class finishing our work. I read a book. We discussed themes. The bell rang. I went to my locker and grabbed a notebook and headed to social studies.

So what was the point of this long-winded and probably not interesting story? It was to, um, prove a point.

And this point is: what makes the two English classes different? One was boring, even if it tried to be different, and one was interesting. This metaphor works for stories as well.

In the wise words of sixth graders,

Interesting is good.

There are some stories that are boring. Different stories will be boring to different people, and that's the truth. People have different interests and ideas and not all books appeal to everyone. Some books people just think are universally boring, like the classics or poetry. (And I can speak to to the truth of that: ever heard a room full of sixth graders read "Walking by the Woods on a Snowy Evening?")

And some books, like sixth grade English, try too hard. They try by attracting to the latest trend -- dystopias, fantasy, books about magic and wizards. They try by flashing goregous shiny covers. They try by putting huge blurbs from bestselling authors across the front of books or comparing the book to a famous bestselling one.

But then there are some books that don't try so hard. They're interesting and fresh and funny and top people's favorite books list, like seventh grade English. And they become the books that people love and enjoy. Classics and all-time favorites.

So I'm here to give you an incredibly simplistic piece of advice but an important one:

Don't be boring with your stories.
Don't try too hard.
Just do your best and be interesting.

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