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Townsend Harris is referred to, for the most part, as a “humanities” school. This term is seen as a degradation to the school community because many people have the common misconception that humanities, in general, are fairly easy compared to science or math courses. On the complete contrary, teachers argue that the humanities are the hardest to teach effectively and the hardest to learn.
In standard English classes, teachers assign books to students, ask them to answer questions, have class discussions, and at the end administer a test. Most students follow this course without questioning it. But as always, there are others who express their distaste in this method.
The topic of independent readings, in which students choose the book they would like to read and conduct an individual study on it, always ensues a heavy debate in most classes with both students and teachers having varying opinions. Independent readings are often disregarded and seen as a ‘silly’ way to teach, but are they really less effective than engaging in group analyses and discussions? Or will the traditional way of teaching always prevail as the supreme?
Sophomore Alicia Balchand asserted, “[Independent reading] develops your reading habits and it allows you to be actually interested in the class,” and explained that by giving students the responsibility to choose a book and analyze it themselves will instill more “independence and confidence.”
Freshman Felix Montgomery seemingly agreed saying, “I prefer independent reading, since this better reflects my interests then being handed a book.”
Felix, however, acknowledged that the effectiveness of independent reading “depends on the person. For some people, they already read at an advanced level, which allows for their abilities in English to expand. For others they may not read at such a level, thus necessitating the need for a selection of difficult books.”
Sophomore Nicholas Skaliotis countered the importance of traditional teaching and explained, “Class discussions are much more involved and we would get more out of having lessons with our teachers. I believe that group work is more effective because in life we have to work in teams to accomplish things.”
In most cases, however, traditional teaching outweighs independent readings for the primary reason that it caters to every student’s academic needs.
English teacher Joseph Canzoneri addressed the debate by saying, “I would never think that should be something that supplements the traditional lessons because I think there is so much to be gained. As something supplementary, I would say yes. Sometimes I have concerns about whether or not students are choosing works that are of literary merit.”
This leads to the question of creativity in the English curriculum itself. With the revelation of Common Core, English teachers find themselves in a vortex of confusion when making lesson plans, deciding what to teach, and how to teach within ever increasing confinements.
English teacher Robert Babstock commented that even though English teachers struggle with “identity politics,” he believes that, “starting with the classics and working our way chronologically through English language literature is logical and…it’s a good way to teach things.”
Even though Mr. Babstock prefers traditional teaching, he explained that THHS is very much apt to the “Western humanities tradition, where [students] question traditions and what they learn,” and said, “if there are kids who are really humanities kids’, I think [independent studies are] a great idea.”
As long as the Board of Education continues to sway in the direction of standard teaching, independent readings will remain a rare practice. Traditional teaching is well established and is more comforting to students because of the continuous support and help they will undoubtedly receive.
Mr. Canzoneri jokingly added (quoting Flannery O’Connor), “No one asks students if they like algebra, no one asks a student if they like irregular verbs in their foreign languages, why are we asking them if they like this book? Your tastes are being formed and…you should…trust us to form your tastes, or at least introduce you to things.”