On Bradbury, Part 1: Middle School

(This is Intern 2. She is a twenty-something liturgical Christian with two degrees related to literature. Every so often during her tenure at Salvo, Intern 2 will post some observations on subjects that strike her as relevant, pressing, or just of interest. She will attempt to keep these snappy and effective, and appreciates all critique and discussion alike. Today, in her two-part first outing, Intern 2 freely associates on an author she had long hoped to meet in this life.)

Public school, like any human institution, has its flaws. For me, these flaws were particularly apparent in our eighth grade English curriculum. One time, our class was assigned a project on “Heroes and Sheroes,” a “shero” being so called because “heroin[e] is the name of a dangerous drug.”

I could go on in this vein for a long while. To do so, would be uninteresting and worse, unjust. Our eighth grade public school English class, for all its problems, was adorned with some distinctly, even vitally positive aspects.

It’s true that this English class had been, somewhere among the higher-ups at the middle school, deemed the assessment test/study habit/career path class, all of which took time and focus away from, well, English. But still there was grammar. Still there was vocabulary. Still we could identify a direct object and use the word “assuage.” We may have even diagrammed a sentence or two. And there was more.

To actively interest fourteen-year-olds while teaching them may be one of the toughest challenges God gave man, but when this class rose to it, it rose. My classmates enjoyed and responded to the fiction and poetry we read and discussed. We engaged in experiences outside of our own little suburban middle school worlds, as should be a main goal of good literature and good literary education.

If I may slip for a second into Old Guard Conservativese, we had many opportunities to stimulate our moral imaginations. I can recall no opportunity so vividly as reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.

Please do yourself a favor. If your experience with Bradbury extends only to having been assigned Fahrenheit 451 (in which books are illegal and their owners sometimes burned along with them) during the Dystopia Unit in high school, then get yourself to the library (or library website) as soon you can. If you feel so inclined, stop reading this post, ignore the following, and go now.

Whatever your impression of Fahrenheit 451 itself and how it was taught to you, please take the plunge into any and all of Bradbury’s other work. We all know that he passed away last week. Now, if you haven’t already, is a good a time to discover him as ever.

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