By Felicity LuHill
February 28, 2017
As a tutor, I’m often called upon to help students read and write when they prefer other subjects over Literature. Generally, these students hate reading and writing. So I ask them, “What subjects do you prefer?” Science, Math, and History are big ones. In these cases, I find it best to get to the hear of why? and use that as a gateway.
An eighth grader once told me:
“I like science because it makes me think of the world in new and different ways.”
“Funny,” I said, “that’s exactly why I like literature.”
To show him what I meant, I introduced to him two stories, “The Happiness Machine” by Ray Bradbury and “A Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka. Both stories play with our perceptions of what we think we know, namely Happiness and Performance.
“The Happiness Machine” is a story about a man who builds a machine that makes you happy. His wife tries it out, and, though she is happy while in the machine, she winds up leaving the machine crying. The machine shows her a world she has no part of, and makes the rest of her life seem sad in comparison. The story launched the student and me into a discussion about what it means to be happy. How, by definition, nothing can be good if there is no bad to compare it to.
Likewise, “The Hunger Artist,” a story about a man who starves himself as a type of performance art, started a conversation about the nature of performance. “This man does nothing, but sit in a cage, letting himself die slowly. Does that mean that anything can be performance?”
He had originally thought that fiction had no relevance in the real world. But both of these stories made him think of the world around him in new ways. He started thinking of happiness and sadness as being closely linked, one necessary for the other. He could see how reasons to perform can be a bit arbitrary. Slowly, he was creating links between the exploratory nature of Science and the exploratory nature of reading.
I strive to make this kind of connection with all sorts of students. Students like math because it’s objective, logical. But so is the structure of a sentence, the “if-then” form of an essay argument, and the cause and effect nature of a story. The student who enjoys memorizing dates and historical trivia, is the same kind of student that would enjoy learning vocabulary and the roots of words.
The same kind of methodology can be applied to early readers. The trick is asking:
- What does he like?
- Why does he like it?
- In what way is that similar to reading and writing?
As someone who studied both Computer Science and English Literature in college, I constantly see all kinds of connections between Literature and other areas. The trick is using the way the student thinks to lead him on unexpected journeys.
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