Friday, December 4, 2009

Teaching Twilight: Should Teachers Use the Book in the Classroom?

When I attended the NCTE National Convention last month, I was very surprised at the number of breakout sessions that revolved around the idea of using Twilight in high school English classes. Most of the session descriptions noted that Twilight’s themes and literary devices could help students understand different aspects of more traditional literature. Additionally, lesson plans and articles, like this one by Jennifer Morrison, laud the series's merits.

Despite my intense dislike for the books, I wouldn’t have a problem mentioning them as a modern example certain literary themes and ideas, and I don’t want to prevent students from talking about them (if only for the hope that the students would look at the damn things critically rather than fawning over the characters).

However, while I can see teachers using Twilight to teach about the Byronic hero (or, in the case of Edward, the abusive, asshole, moronic hero) or literary allusions, I also believe that there are so many issues at hand when using these books. Beyond the horrible model that Bella presents for teenage girls and the other anti-Twilight sentiments I have already shared on this blog, here are a few more problems that could come with teaching this book to high school students:
  • Using a Twilight-heavy approach would inevitably alienate some students (not every teenager drinks the Twilight Kool-Aid). Most teenage boys (and some teenage girls) really don’t like the books, and I can’t see them getting too excited about classes completely dedicated to Twilight. While you might get some girls squeeing with delight at the fact that you mentioned Twilight in class, you will also get some kids rolling their eyes in disdain or mentally checking out so they don't have to hear more about this already overhyped book.
  • It might come off as condescending. We all know adults who try to be cool but end up being patronizing instead. Since I know that I would not be able to use Twilight on a long-term basis in my classroom without some obviously false enthusiasm (and some thinly veiled sarcasm), it is probably best that teachers who loathe this book stay away.
  • Just because they like it doesn’t mean that it’s any good. Beyond the bad prose, the ludicrous plots, and the awful, awful characters, I would have a hard time being able to use this book as any sort of model. Yes, teens love the books, and I can even see, to an extent, why they become so addicted to the series. However, history has shown that being popular and addicting does not equal being good.
  • Getting past the cult of Twilight could be very hard. Spending some time looking at this book critically could be fascinating, but some students might not be able to get past the blind adoration to acknowledge other people's genuine concerns. It is hard for many people (teenagers and adults alike) to understand and accept different views on an issue they feel passionately about and to not get overly critical or emotional when someone has a differing point of view. A quick look at the many Twilight forums and Amazon reviews shows that some of the fans do not tolerate any sort of criticism against the book, and trying to get a rationale discussion or debate about the book could lead to scary, scary places.
Please feel free to weigh in on this debate. Would you use Twilight in an average high school English classroom?


Anonymous said...

God, no. I can safely say that my english teacher would fight tooth and claw not to have those books on our reading list. Personally I have read the Twilight books just to see what all the fuss was about, and I must honestly say that I liked them. I do however plead ignorance and youth being in Junior High at the time. The books hold no literary merit and are nothing extraordinary.Thank you for your unique perspective and insightful comments.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I feel that Twilight should be used in classrooms. I dont say this as an avid fan, (which I am, so call me biased, if you must) but rather I say this as a student majoring in English. Twilight might be addicting, and the plot rather predictable- the whole thing is a lesson in disguise. It shows, that unlike most romantic stories, there is a barrier between Bella and Edward, him being mythical, and her a normal human. And yes, during the end, she does break- but at what cost? Their story is similar to beauty and the beast, except this 'beauty' seems to not realize that she is rather controlled by Edward. It shows that none of the relationships in the story are perfect- and neither is the Cullen family. It isn't a perfect- go lucky, happy ending story if looked at closely, yet, it is a lesson to be learned and story that can, and rather should be studied- some schools, like Yale, have already started courses on such fiction. Still, wonderful insight on your blog.