Love Of Learning, No Fun Intended
CHICAGO -- Is it a sign of a coming intellectual apocalypse? Probably not, but AOL's recent announcement that it will be teaming up with reality TV experts to create video versions of CliffsNotes Literature Guides to present classics through "humorous, irreverent, animated shorts" has set book lovers and English teachers on edge.
According to AOL's news release, at the top of the list for the video
summaries are works by Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens,
"and many more," though no titles were specified.
AOL said the videos won't just explore plots, characters and themes.
Rather, it will offer "high quality videos that provide analysis,
interpretation, and criticism of the great works of literature in a fun and
highly memorable way." That all those objectives could possibly be met in
the same length of time it takes to microwave a frozen pizza is
Though AOL is touting this as cutting edge -- "updating the
(CliffsNotes) format for a new generation of online consumer" -- the idea
seems outdated in the novelty department. It makes me think of the cheesy
anti-drug videos shown in my high school health class featuring messages of
moral rectitude via throbbing quasi-gangsta rap.
The video CliffsNotes scheme is insidious, but not because these videos
will actually keep any student from reading a great work of literature. Trust me,
so many of today's students seem to have such a sincere hatred of reading
hard-wired into their psyches that even the threat of a failing grade won't
stir the faintest whiff of effort. That's why anything -- anything at all --
that could possibly familiarize a student, even in passing, with an important
piece of literature should be welcomed with open arms.
No, the real harm is that this is yet another endorsement and
facilitation of the stultifying education myth that learning must be -- or can
be made to be -- fun. And that regurgitation of facts on a test determines
whether the next book can be slapped onto the student's plate for the next
cycle of digestion, analysis and eventual elimination.
Despite the relentless theories of modern teacher education, learning --
like important literature, and life itself -- is not always fun. It can be
rewarding and fulfilling but in most cases takes concentration and
perseverance. Yet we constantly drill into new teachers and students the
falsehood that education can be entertainment, then wonder why students who
have mastered Xbox or iPod apps aren't engaged with even the most creative,
As a society we simply don't respect the work that goes into learning --
there's nothing wrong with it not always being a barrel of monkeys. And when it
is a challenge, it must not be abandoned because of a low giggle factor.
I can't conceive that giving "David Copperfield" a coarse
makeover will garner AOL the lucrative teen demographic's hungry eyes. At best,
lovers of literature will gleefully share the links on Facebook. At worst,
however, it'll be one more denigration of the ideal of instilling in students a
lifelong love of learning.
Esther Cepeda's e-mail address is estherjcepeda(at)washpost.com.
© 2011, Washington Post Writers GrouP