I talked to one of our grad students the other day about teaching high school, which is what he wants to do. He's thinking about readings for a class, and talked about Hemingway and Hawthorne.
Flashback. I was a horrid high school student, not horrid in the way of doing lots of drugs or anything even minimally exciting or challenging, but horrid in the way of being a miserable teenager who was marking time. I liked few classes, mostly chemistry and biology, with a side of math. I hated English, especially.
I hated Hemingway and Hawthorne, Dickens, Shakespeare, pretty much everything we read. And especially, I absolutely thought Salinger was the pits. (No, sadly, the Shakespeare wasn't a typo.)
It wasn't that I didn't like to read, though. I don't know why I didn't like anything we read in classes. It wasn't that I was a completely enlightened young feminist, frustrated by reading in my whole high school career (to the best of my memory), exactly ONE work by a woman, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Later, I'd be frustrated by that, but at the time, I really wasn't aware.
Nor was I getting much guidance outside of school about reading. One of my neighbors gave me some books to read from her shelves (and I'm still, to this day, grateful to her), Leon Uris, Michener, books that were way more intellectually challenging than I was reading otherwise. I read several books by both, and learned a lot, even if it was mostly vague, weird, and not really good history.
I don't remember quite how I got into Solzhenitsyn, though it probably had something to do with the cold war, his critique of the USSR, and the Nobel prize a few years earlier. But Solzhenitsyn was, scarily enough, my guide to reading for several years. I read Cancer Ward. Why didn't we read stuff like that in classes? I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. And then I started The Gulag Archipelago, expecting some novel, no doubt, but that's not what I got.
What got me about The Gulag Archipelago was that there were tons of notes (in my English translation), and it was obvious as I read along, understanding maybe a tenth of what I was reading, that there was a world of reading to do, and that Solzhenitsyn pretty much expected his readers to know about all these works. My future nerditude came out, and I started taking notes on the notes, mostly listing the books I obviously should read.
So I started reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I remember reading Norton Critical Editions from the local public library, and thinking that the essays in the back must constitute pretty much everything I should need to know about the works, because that's how little I understood anything about literature. But I knew I really loved reading those novels, trying to figure out characters and their relationships, and why Solzhenitsyn thought I should know about them.
Meanwhile, I failed the Julius Caesar quiz in my high school English class, and never did figure out why I should care what time the clock stopped in Great Expectations. (Yes, I know why it stops now, but I still don't care. I know! I should try rereading Dickens, because I hear he gets better with age.)
Flashforward. I wish I could figure out why I hated my English classes in high school even though I loved reading, because if I could, I could do a lot better job helping our education students choose texts. I'm not sure I think the primary way students should be taught to read is through identification with an author. That is, I don't think white men need to read works by white men so they can identify with the author or something. I loved reading those Russian authors, even though they were male and I had nothing in common with them or their characters, certainly far less than with Salinger's characters.
But I think it's vital that high school students get some real variety in periods, identifications, genres, approaches, attitudes, themes. I just don't know that I could predict what I would have engaged with in classes as a high schooler.
Perhaps I was just in a minimally rebellious mode, choosing things to read that were pretty alien (and frankly unwelcome) in my family and social contexts, rather than rebelling more forcefully in other ways? In which case, just having a book assigned might have prompted a rebellious rejection?
As it is, I gently (I hope) talked to the student about my frustration reading what I'd read in high school, and tried to get our grad student to include writers of color and women, different genres, and to think about using different approaches or working with different projects.