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Honors English

Honors English February 16, 2011

So the older daughter is eligible for honors English next year. Bravo!

I respond with enthusiasm and what I hope comes across as encouragement without too much pressure.

"I'd have to do the summer reading."

"You like summer reading."

"Yeah, but there's like this 900-page book that she makes every class read."

"War and Peace?"

"No."

"The Brothers Karamazov?" (I suppose these guesses don't really count as "English" literature, but I'm thinking 900 pages has to be Russian.)

"No, it's like 'Fountain …' or 'Fountainhead,' something like that."

And suddenly this conversation has taken an unwelcome turn. I like the idea of my daughter taking honors English. I do not like the idea of my daughter taking honors English from someone who regards The Fountainhead as worthwhile. I do not like the idea of her studying literature with a teacher who doesn't like literature and who seems intent on infecting students with her distaste for it.

Set aside the appalling themes and juvenile narcissism of the book's pseudo-philosophy. It's dull. Numbingly, claw-your-eyes-out dull. It's horribly written, yet it's horribleness never manages to be horrible in an entertaining way. This is the sort of book that can ruin reading — the very idea of reading — for months or years afterward.

And beyond that, an honors English course is supposed to prepare students for college. Slogging through The Fountainhead does nothing to prepare a student for college. No one needs to read this book in preparation for college. No one needs to read this book in college.

Well … I suppose it's possible that psych majors specializing in delusional, self-reinforcing agnotology might read sections of this book as case studies. But I don't see any reason that even they would need to force themselves to get through the entire thing.

And I don't see any reason that someone teaching an honors English class for college-bound high school students would waste those students' time with 900+ pages of this book instead of reading books they'll actually need to know later in their studies — books they might enjoy and benefit from.

Lest any of Ayn Rand's strange little disciples attempt to twist my comments here into a call for "censorship," please note that I am not calling for this book to be banned or forbidden. I'm simply pointing out that it deserves to be ignored.

We can't read everything. Most of us won't get around to reading most things and we'll wind up leaving inspiring, insightful, beautiful, life-enhancing books on the shelf. Time spent reading repetitive dreck like The Fountainhead is time spent not reading those other books — books that actually deserve to be read, the reading of which will enrich us and maybe even improve us.

Reading The Fountainhead does not enrich or improve. It stupefies. Time spent reading this book would be better spent watching television. Time spent reading this book would be better spent watching a Jersey Shore marathon on television. That execrable MTV program would do just as much to prepare a high school student for college. And Snooki is a better role model — a better person — than Rand or her protagonists.

If the honors English teacher actually did require students to watch a Jersey Shore marathon, I would suspect that this wasn't a very good class. But I would be less suspicious of that teacher than I am of this one.

This whole thing has me flummoxed. Learning that this book is the centerpiece of the honors English class is like finding out that Ken Ham will be teaching honors biology.

It is depressing to learn that your child's education may be best served by avoiding honors English.

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