I don’t know what happened. Everything started out great. For awhile I was actually the “cool teacher.” I gave my class The Hunger Games as their first course assignment, and nobody batted an eye.
“I just want you guys to get excited about reading,” I told them. “Who needs all those dead old white guys? Screw Shakespeare,” I said. “Screw Thoreau. Let’s expand that MF canon. Let’s get some dystopian YA lit in this ish.”
Yeah, I said ‘ish’ in a class full of seventeen-year-olds. Take a wild guess if I got mocked. Not a chance, losers. I’m barely clinging to my twenties, but I have horn-rimmed glasses and a beard, and we’re in the goddamn Research Triangle; do I even have to tell you those gawky dweebs ate that shit up? They were on board from Day One. Even those weird Honors kids loved it, and they have to write essays twice as long as everyone else just so they can skip freshman English two years from now.
And boy, did they write essays. They all did. Attention was rapt. There was discussion. Dare I say we were part of an emerging discourse? Dare I say we were engaged and empathetic learners? You bet your ass I do. We had Marxist interpretations of the novel’s comments on the Appalachian coal mining industry. We had feminist theory applied to Katniss’ role as her family’s primary breadwinner following the tragic loss of her father. We had group projects, and they were multi-modal as shit! And you better believe we were queering that text. I had one student who was shipping Peeta and Haymitch, as if that makes any narrative goddamn sense, to say nothing of the complex power dynamics at play.
What I’m saying is, we were scholastic mavericks. We were renegades. We were just like the people of District 13, in many ways.
“This is working,” I said to myself as we neared the end of the section. “I’m really reaching these kids here.” So naturally, for our next assignment, I gave them the sequel, Catching Fire. The natural conclusion, I thought. They liked the first book; they want to know what happens next, right? Let’s keep this hype train going full speed to the Capitol, no fucking stops, can I get an amen?
Not so, it turns out. Now everyone’s in an uproar. Suddenly everyone’s got some kind of goddamn contrary opinion. “We already did a fantasy YA novel,” they tell me. “Are you sure we’re supposed to be reading this?” they say. “This is a World Literature course.” Like, what the shit, folks? First off it’s dystopian YA. While there can be dystopian fantasy, it’s most commonly a sub-genre of sci-fi; did you not read the PowerPoint I posted to Blackboard? But fine, I get it. You don’t like fun. You don’t want to experience firsthand the continuing saga of Katniss Everdeen, rebel savior of Panem and modern feminist icon, as portrayed onscreen by the capable-yet-relatable J-Law. It’s fine. I’m fine.
But let me be absolutely clear: we are not reading The Scarlet Letter instead. We are not reading Fahrenheit 451. And we are sure as shit not reading The Heart of Darkness. “Why not?” they cry out, snot gushing down their blistered faces. Why? Because the state’s paying me 19 grand a year, you fucking reprobates. That means after paying rent, my car payment, my student loan bill, and for food, I save fuck-all and still have roommates. So if you want to read something other than The Lightning Thief, go talk to somebody on tenure track. Those of us who aren’t crybaby nerds are going to Olympus (!!!) by way of a charmingly irreverent, albeit largely featureless, protagonist. This class is taking that elevator to the six hundredth goddamn floor with or without you.
Now, is it true that the only books I read cover to cover while I was in undergrad were from The Hunger Games trilogy? Sure, if we’re being tight-assed about what ‘cover to cover’ entails. Is that my fault? Personally, I blame the sad state of the American collegiate system, along with the widespread availability of accurate, detailed plot synopses. But moreover, I’m a 50-grand-in-the-hole Secondary Education major. I minored in Art History. What, you think I’m about to discuss a book that’s older than I am when my contract gets renewed every semester and the school has massively over-hired for the fall? Not a chance, fuckers. We’re riding that YA wagon train all the way to Dauntless HQ. That’s right, I’m talking Divergent. I’m talking everything ever written by John fucking Green. If it’s won a Michael L. Printz award, it’s on the table. Fuck it, I might even make you read Twilight. You think that’s water I’m drinking out of that opaque travel mug? You’re close, fuckheads, it’s coffee cut with Jim Beam and Xanax.
So, let’s go, folks. I want to see each and every one of you working in your Daily Writing journals.