SEPTEMBER 15, 2016 | The Jewish Home
Judging a Book By its Cover Why English is (Still) the Most Important Subject in School By Chaim Homnick
n light of the flurry of technological advancement that we have enjoyed in the 21st century, high schools and politicians alike have increasingly promoted STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses as the way of the future. While the renewed emphasis on those areas of the curriculum are certainly important in today’s age, the fact remains that English Literature (when taught right) is the most important topic in high school. While a decent percentage of students will in fact pursue careers in STEM-centric fields, it is still not ubiquitous. There are numerous careers in other fields that students can pursue. However, the skills acquired in a well-taught English class are relevant for all students and can be applied to almost any career. A professional in nearly any field needs to be articulate in both their speech and their writing. Below are several other key reasons why a strong English curriculum at the high school level (and earlier) is so vital:
ENGLISH IS THE ONLY OPEN-ENDED CURRICULUM
Math, history and science all come with convenient built-in curriculums and textbooks. Are you teaching Bio to ninth grade? Follow the textbook, prepare them for the standardized Bio Regent and voila! Obviously, good teachers are still crucial, but there is a clear roadmap
in those classes. English Literature, meanwhile, is totally open-ended. A teacher can spend four years teaching Shakespeare or four years just doing short stories; the textbooks for English Literature aren’t especially useful, and not enough schools have a coherent, organized plan for what will be covered each year. In Mesivta Ateres Yaakov (full disclosure: I teach 5 periods of Honors, AP and dual enrollment English Literature there), we created and implemented a four-year English Literature curriculum that follows a logical, comprehensive path to ensuring students graduate armed with the requisite skills for success on the SAT, in college and in life. We blend literature and literary knowledge with practical analysis and comprehension skills while also integrating the SAT into the classroom. Every school needs to have a customized, cohesive plan that is more thorough than merely listing two novels that the teacher must cover annually. Consequently, while math, history and science classes are taught very similarly in most schools in the Five Towns, the content of your child’s English Literature class can vary wildly depending upon the school they are in, what level the class is, and the whims of that particular teacher. Considering how important those English skills are, that makes it doubly important to find a school that has a structured, intelligent curriculum that covers all the right
ENGLISH IS CRUCIAL FOR THE SAT AND OTHER TESTS I have written at length in TJH about the SAT (or ACT) but it bears repeating: this is the most important test a child takes in high school. Achieving a solid SAT score (1100 or so) is necessary for admission to most colleges and achieving a higher score (1250-1400 and up) can open the door to opportunities like Honors Programs, scholarships and more. As important as a strong STEM program is, only math is covered on the SAT. The other half of the test is devoted to reading and writing. Why? Because colleges view English and math as the two foundational building blocks that connote college-readiness. Even tests like the GRE, MCAT, DAT, and LSAT have English components.
BUILDING TOWARD THE FUTURE The reason why those disparate tests all test English is because English is the one topic that is universally necessary. Top doctors publish high-end, intellectual papers. Scientists perform copious research and publish as well. Many lawyers do nothing but draft documents all day. Basic reading comprehension skills and writing ability are critical and yet children are increasingly spurning reading books in exchange
for capturing Pokemon or snapchatting their friends. In such an environment, it is even more important that they foster an appreciation for reading in school. Additionally, the analytic skills inherent in a thorough analysis of literature are vital for any profession. English Literature may not have a fancy acronym like STEM, and it may not give parents as much homework-related anxiety as math often does, but it is the most important subject in school nonetheless. Schools need to devote resources to ensuring the class is taught competently and in a manner conducive to genuine improvement. And as for us parents, the next time our child’s search for a Charizard gets rained out, we should hand them a good book instead.
Chaim Homnick is the College Advisor at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov of Lawrence and also teaches 5 periods of Honors/AP English Literature. Chaim is the owner of Five Towns Tutoring (fivetownstutoring.com) as well as Machane Miami Day Camp of Florida (machanemiami.com). He scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and the LSAT and tutors both extensively. He has a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration as well as an MBA. For questions, comments, previous articles or tutoring, he can be reached directly at chomnick@ gmail.com.
Five Towns Jewish Home - 9-15-16