By Keith Dinh
Every day, people speak it; it is read; it is lived. Every day, people around the world live the English language and read its literary works of the present and past. Even today, everyone reads books, stories and even poetry of writers who existed in the time of the Renaissance and writers who are still writing today.
English literature is everywhere, and it is influencing the lives of the current and next generation of writers, as well as the general public. Though there are so many great works of art, English literary writers at Rainier believe that many people are passive readers who might miss key details that make different texts meaningful.
Sunli Kim, the freshman English teacher at Summit Public School: Rainier, tells of her thoughts on the influence of English literature on society today. She tells of the importance of critical analysis and urges others to pay more attention to details in what people read, not just read passively.
“I think people think that reading just automatically happens because we speak the language, right? We talk it; we say it every day. I would argue that reading and writing is a practice that requires a lot of work, a lot of critical thinking and practice. It’s not something that just naturally comes to you. You have to work hard at it, and I hope that this addresses what people may see as a pointless course. I think that the more that people grow, they realize how important these issues are because those are the issues that never leave human society,” Ms. Kim said.
Ms. Kim, a graduate of Stanford University in 2015, is a constant reader and writer who teaches her students to be the same. When writing creatively, Ms. Kim reads texts, from books to blogs, to form the foundation for her inspiration and ideas.
“I might look to different writing samples, go on blogs or poetry foundations, or just read through some of my favorite books or poems for inspiration. I feel like the most helpful times have been in a workshop, and there is a particular activity where we read first lines or famous first lines, and we try to copy that sort of structure and come up with a first line ourselves. And then, that usually makes me think of why it was impactful, how it made me feel, and how I could replicate that, but not using that exact same style,” Ms. Kim said.
Overall, Ms. Kim believes that reading should be practiced, despite the fading of the older arts of literature. She finds literature of all cultures are valuable to everyone because even though they are not in English or translated, the thoughts and ideas that are expressed make the texts no less valuable.
“I think that reading as an activity in the traditional sense that people associated with is not what it was because of our very easy access to different types of information, and that then affects the way we interact with things we read … I think that sort of structure is fading out a bit. I think there are also trends based on your age group. I know that in high school and in college, my friends usually looked at me weirdly for constantly reading; but at this point in time, they have the audacity to recommend the activity to me. The activity itself is valuable … So I think there are different structures and places in our society that present what people think are similar outcomes, but I would argue otherwise,” Ms. Kim said.
Christina Bell-Robinson, the sophomore English teacher at Summit Public School: Rainier, has been in love with English literature, specifically poetry, since her high school years. As she teaches today, she feels as though students are afraid to show their true colors and are stopping themselves from getting to know themselves more and understanding their emotions. It is her goal for the school year to bring forth the best and most pure versions of her students so that the ones who fear expressing themselves are no longer afraid to show who they are.
“I love reading and writing myself, and I feel like it’s not only important, but I feel like some people are scared to do it because maybe they’re scared to share how they really think and feel, and I see that a lot with students who either don’t want to write something or don’t want to share their idea, or kind of just follow the crowd- like, they’re really scared to kind of figure out how they really feel about something, and I feel like that’s important, and I hope that by the end of this school year, I can get kids to truly look into themselves and see what they are passionate about, and not be scared to be different or to share their own beliefs,” Ms. Bell-Robinson said.
A graduate of Northwest University, with a bachelors in English, and Western Governor’s University, with a masters in teaching English, Ms. Bell-Robinson played on the women’s tackle football team for the Seattle Majestics. She loves English literature, and she believes that the communication skills that are obtained through learning about it are a necessary skill to be able to effectively express ideas to other people.
“The thing with English is that you need to be able to communicate with people effectively, and so knowing how to write, even though people don’t love writing, but knowing how to get your ideas across and be super concise, and to the point, and write for a purpose is probably one of the most important things because you need to communicate on all levels no matter what you do in your life,” Ms. Bell-Robinson said.
Doe Myers, the junior English teacher at Summit Public School: Rainier, says that English literature, reading, and writing, can help students embrace a side to life that she believes is being neglected. In what she has heard in what students are reading nowadays, Ms. Myers is happy that students are reading. She hopes that students will be able to realize that they are capable of making differences in society and that they can find pleasure in reading.
“I don’t think students are not reading enough. I just think they are missing a lovely joy in life. What they are reading, it sounds like a lot of kids are reading dystopian literature, and if they’re reading, I’m very happy. If they’re taking from it that there are problems to be solved and they’re getting ideas on how to solve them, that’s great. What I don’t like about dystopian literature is that often, it is one person, one hero, or one heroine who is solving the problem, which I don’t think is a realistic solution to any problem. We are a community, we are a democracy, we are a republic, and one lone hero at high noon, solving the problems, that would be my concern that they might take that …. What I hope they’re taking is the pleasure of reading- that’s what I hope they’re taking,” Ms. Myers said.
Ms. Myers, originally from New England, graduated from Merrimack College, in North Andover, Massachusetts. She was the first person in her family to graduate from college. Later, she received her masters in Library Science from San Jose State University. Ms. Myers has two grown children of her own, Zoe and Cory, both of whom graduated from Summit. She has had much experience with English literature, and she stresses critical thinking when teaching her students, as good evidence and strong reasoning is what results in clarity in a conversation. These skills are the ones that Ms. Myers values the most when teaching her English class.
“Since my class is all about nonfiction writing, I would say what I want my students to do is use good evidence, check to see that your gut thinking matches some relevant evidence that is available in the world today. I’d love to see them really consider the other side, so that counter-argument is not just another exercise, that it is actually a chance to critically look at the other side and actually see they probably have a good point. It doesn’t mean that you change your mind- it could, but that you recognize that things are more complex than one way of thinking. I would like them to ought to realize that no matter what they care about, if they’re not clear in their writing, they might not be clear, themselves, and other people may not be clear about it is they want to say, so clarity is so important,” Ms. Myers said.
Karren Windsor, the senior English teacher at Summit Public School: Rainier, is someone who has loved reading for as long as she can remember. Ms. Windsor says that the more one practices, the better their communication skills become. She strongly believes that English literature can embody what we seek, from the purpose in life, to our origins. It is her understanding that there are some who believe reading and writing is outdated, but she thinks of English as a means to better understand ourselves, the world, and the happenings in society.
“I think the more a person reads, the more eloquent they become, both in their writing and their speaking, and the better they can understand others’ communication … English class is all about communication … Some people think that reading is passé, something we did in the past before things became all visual now, but I think it is really the human endeavor of trying to communicate clearly and trying to understand one another. That, and especially for teenagers, but for everybody, we’re always trying to figure out meaning- the purpose of life, our origins, our morals, our destinies, all of those things, we are trying to figure out, and literature, especially fiction, deals with those, and it deals with all the choices that people make, as well as the consequence of all those choices,” Ms. Windsor said.
Ms. Windsor completed her undergraduate work at Wellesley College, took several courses at MIT and then finished her graduate work, studying clinical counseling and receiving the MSW degree from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work. Prior to becoming a teacher, she worked as a therapist for some time, which has given her much insight to how humans think, react, and change. Ms. Windsor has realized that the human culture is transforming, and she has come to recognize that the time that is taken to find answers to life through stories has drastically changed from the many hours it took to finish a book to the near hour or so it takes to watch a TV show.
“I’ve just found it really interesting that we used to be a reading culture and we have become a watching culture. I think that makes it harder for us to have patience with one another. I think that in our watching culture, the answers to problems are given to us quickly, like at the end of the half-hour TV show, or at the end of the two-hour movie, whereas when you read, you spend maybe ten or fifteen hours with a book or with a person’s growth and development, and so I think that gives us more time to grow with them,” Ms. Windsor said.
With so much more available to society with technology, it is easy for people to get their hands on texts and literary works. Poetry and short stories are even becoming more abundant in the cyber world. It gives readers a chance to better understand literature and open their knowledge to different kinds of writings from classics, to sonnets, to free verse, to modern fiction. In the end, it is all up to perhaps the most important part: the reader’s analysis of the story.
Something that is read, spoken and lived every day, English literature has greatly influenced our society, according to Sunli Kim, Christina Bell-Robinson, Doe Myers and Karren Windsor. All of the English teachers of Summit Public School: Rainier believe that English literature, reading and writing, has been under-practiced in recent years. The art is slowly dissipating, changing from reading and writing to texting and watching. It is their message to society, and the youth within in it, that this art should be practiced so that they can be better individuals who can make bigger differences and allow English literature to strive for as long as possible. It is lived every day, and even though there are some that overlook key details through overly passive reading, there are still some parts of literature that influence society, the world and the everyday lives of the people.