Teaching classic lit in #MeToo era requires awareness


By Juliana Foster, RT Wrap lifestyle segment producer

In light of the expanding #MeToo movement, sexual assault has been an issue more prevelant and addressed than ever. One of the only places that hasn’t been changed because of it and movements like it is the core classes that students have to take. While math and science don’t have much to do with the subject, English might. Students across America read the classics, several of which revolve around sexual assault, harrasment and stalking. Some believe that teachers should address the #MeToo movement in their lessons for books like The Crucible and To Kill A Mockingbird, while others disagree. Middletown High School English teachers gave their thoughts and opinions on the matter.
When asked if teachers should be required to address the #MeToo movement when reading some of our classic literature, Debra Leonard, Middletown High School English teacher, believed the classroom was an inappropriate place for that discussion. “I don’t know that it needs to be part of the curriculum…I think it’s the responsibility of the family to deal with these issues and their children because I also don’t believe that all students are emotionally and mentally mature enough to deal with those topics in a classroom environment” Leonard insists. Desiree Denton, MHS Drama and English teacher, responded saying “in high school, we are very limited in sort of the modern literature that we get to look at, so when we see a living author who is discovered to have engaged in something inappropriate generally we don’t study that person, so we can’t address that,” however she does elaborate explaining that the classroom should still be a safe place for all students and their backgrounds.
Another conflict that many have with reading “triggering” literature is whether students should have the option to opt out of reading books that may contain sensitive content in exchange for another. Jennifer Clark, MHS English teacher explained “Yes, absolutely, of course! Any time a student is disturbed by images, they should not be forced to read something or watch something detrimental to their mental or emotional health. English teachers are always willing to assign alternate texts if students or their parents find content objectionable,” and continued to say “Not all of it is for everyone.” Leonard agrees explaining that “parents always have that as an option, if a student is greatly affected by a situation in a novel, there are other things that we are prepared to offer.” this being said, Leonard still is “uncomfortable” with addressing this topic in the classroom.
Sometimes, instead of risking hurt to one person, a “sticky situation” will be entirely avoided through eradication, but should schools have the option to disregard some of these classic and commonly taught books? Denton expressed her opinion answering with “I tell my kids all the time, I would love for you to be in love with literature when you leave my class, but I’m more concerned that you’re becoming ever closer to the kind of person that I hope is going out into the world to contribute, so we walk a line between teaching you basics and teaching resilience.” “Aspects of this idea will come up wherever books represent real life and wherever we look for it. There is no getting away from it, and I would hesitate to censor any quality literature. Even in The Lord of the Flies with no girls in the story or sexuality at all, this idea comes up with the perverse pleasure derived from the brutal overtaking of a sow in a deviant hunt that serves to demonstrate the primal lust for power, control, and domination over another living creature much in the same way it is depicted when the victim is human,” Clark admits. The census seems to explain that it is a touchy subject, it is very difficult to avoid, whatever precautions may be in place.