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An Inexpensive Romance Novel Compared to "Of Mice and Men"
Arguments have flared for over 100 years about whether certain classes in elementary through high school are useful. Many are quite beneficial, despite student protest, but many adults have not known in times past that these classes affect the brain for better functioning. They offered the weak argument that these classes made a "well-rounded student", which did not impress complaining students. In the 21st C. we know much more about what exactly is good about these classes.
Some students say that they see no need or use for Algebra, but the meaning in Arabic of this mathematical study is literally "to put broken sticks back together." It is the art of putting together puzzle pieces logically through mathematical expressions that are a type of language. Forgetting to record a check in your check register and figuring out how much money was on it is Algebra. Thinking of the most likely places your lost child may have gone and mapping the result - even in your mind - uses both Algebra and Calculus, without you ever writing a number.
Where Algebra is language, Geometry is pattern. Studying both changes one's brain towards a more logical thought process and more effective problem solving, each affecting a different side of the brain - or rather, Algebra affects both sides. Logical thought, understanding sequences, time patterns, filling in missing items in a sequence, and other elements of thinking and understanding are enhanced, whether a students successfully completes an entire Algebra or Geometry course, or not. Reading and speaking from an early age is a key to most other forms of learning and reading a variety of genres provides a larger frame of reference from which to solve problems and make choices.
Stating that a course or a book has no educational value from the stance that one does not like or understand it is illogical, a false premise.
Little Educational Value, But a Good Object Lession
In my 7th grade year, a social studies teacher treated students earning consistently higher marks very oddly. On one assignment, she issued all of them F's without reading their papers, because "they had never received a low grade before" and needed to experience that. I think we were experiencing prejudice or an experiment for a doctoral dissertation.
Later, the class was divided into six reading groups and assigned books from classic American literature or current popular novels, based on reading level achievement scores in 6th grade. This was odd, because 1) this was social studies rather than the American Literature class and 2) the teacher assumed that the more popular the book, the lower the reading level - not always true.
Our class included three girls displaying a grade 13.0+ reading level (1st year college, and the test could not measure higher levels). They were placed in the lowest reading level group to read a 6th-grade level romance novel. It was printed in large typeface, with misspellings and awkward sentence structure. The teacher laughed about it. The books had been donated and looked like those that were quickly written by hack writers to be sold in K-Mart stores at 2 or 3 for $1.00.
I read the first half of the book and the last chapter that hour, closed it, and said that it was stupid. The story was about two high school girls wondering who would ask them to the senior prom, followed by each having a date at the end. It did not offer information or entertainment in our day of kids overdosing on drugs on the school bus and a 13-year old giving birth to twins. I did learn why K-Mart sold books so cheaply, though - they were used in school rooms and then tossed.
Each reading group was to discuss the assigned book and make an oral presentation to the class through a chosen spokesperson. No one had much to say about the romance novel. The girl chosen to speak for the group was scheduled last to present, because the presentations were scheduled by reading level, highest to lowest. I kept my mouth shut, but wanted the school year to be over.
Each presenter gave a short summary, lessons learned, favorite character, message, and whatever else could be added in 5 to 7 minutes to earn a decent grade for the whole group. The last presenter had sat silently, with an impassive expression. The teacher called on her late, about two minutes before the bell was to ring. The class waited.
The presenter suddenly picked up the paperback book, raised it high, slammed it down on her desktop with a tremendous BOOM and shouted, "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen!" The bell rang and all the students left - fast.
The entire class received an A on this assignment and I think it must have been a social experiment. Still, I learned something else from the useless book - it is not nice to play games with students' lives.
John Malkovich, Gary Sinese, Ray Walston
Of Mice and Men, a novella by John Steinbeck, has educational value that a person forced to read it may not notice. Never required to read it in school, my first knowledge of it was from a Looney Tunes animation in which a large not-too-bright dog followed a shorter, smarter dog named "George." It was a direct parody of the novella, so having learned that from a magazine article, I read the book.
After reading Of Mice and Men, I read The Grapes of Wrath and learned even more about the Dust Bowl and its surrounding Great Depression. Censors attacked the first book as vulgar in 1937, and that is reason enough to read it - to learn what the commotion is about.
First, the novella can increase the reading grade level of readers in middle and high school. it can certainly offer additional vocabulary and the experience of Steinbeck's writing style. It also teaches about:
- Goal setting and following one's dreams
- Handling changes in plans
- Mental Illness and challenge, maltreatment of the mentally challenged
- Southern politics
- Poverty and The Great Depression
As I came to learn, the novella's title is based in a few lines from a Robert Burns poem called To a Mouse: On turning her up in her nest, with the plough, November, 1785
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go oft awry
And leave us nothing but grief and pain
For promised Joy
Used for decades now as a proverb in American and British literature and media, the lines are seen in numerous books and scripts.
MIce and Men - Poverty
- Of Fox And Hounds - Looney Tunes, Warner Bros (1940)
A classic cartoon directed by Tex Avery. (1940) Where the catchphrase "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?" partly originated. Tex Avery did th...