English class

Young Koh

Of all the classes that the common student dislikes, English class seems to get the worst of it. We understand that there is some educational value in reading the works of dead authors, but such an understanding still can’t keep us awake as we stare blankly at Marc Antony’s speech while our teacher spoon feeds us the translation of what Shakespeare is trying to express. Why can’t we simply have a more vernacular way or understanding these great works? Instead of “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks…” why can’t we have “Oh dang I see dat hot gurl up there”? Is there any importance in interpreting these works, or would it be the same to simply know the basic meaning and move on?

This process of interpretation infuriates us, but the fact that we have been required to do it to a certain degree in our middle-through-high school careers should ring a bell that it is an important process to master. Understanding the meaning and deeper meaning (and sometimes, the even-deeper meaning) of text is a skill we exercise daily as we communicate each other. In fact, the argument can be very easily made that our daily conversations are no less complicated to interpret than the dusty, hundred year old essays we have to read in class. For instance, “literally” holds a colloquial meaning for “figuratively,” and “fine” is often read as a thinly veiled expression of sorrow. Communication, be it verbal or textual, is a process by which we exchange ideas with each other. Even when it is unintended, the author of a hundred-year-old essay is conveying an idea to you. Communication loses its meaning when we can’t understand each other, and that is why the practice of interpretation is a very important part of our education. If we all speak only in the most literal terms, then gone are the days of artful and subtle flirting. We convey meaning through irony, through metaphor, through hyperbole, through all these devices without consciously thinking about it. The understanding of these devices and the mastery in their use allows for very dramatic story telling and even more effective flirting. As you read Shakespeare, try to appreciate the fact that it may be the most vulgar and violent thing you will ever read in your high school career. Even as we get knee-deep into the not understanding of Thoreau, the beauty of his excessive and complex language is in the practice of understanding of something harder than omg/lol. (Also, when you understand the essay, it is actually a very keen observation of life.)

As we continue our lives, we inevitably interact with other individuals along the way. How we handle that interaction will play a deciding role in deciding where we go in life. English class is disliked because it is boring and sometimes difficult, but also essential because it helps us to better handle that interaction.


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