Why I Assign Great Expectations

I have been teaching English in one form or another (language arts, literature, communication skills) for several decades.  Having started my learning center over eighteen years ago, I have witnessed a substantial decrease in the level of reading material that my middle and high school students receive at their schools. Therefore, in my language arts program, I do supplement their program with “classic literature.” Authors like Shakespeare, Dickens, Golding, Faulkner, Hardy, et al,  provide examples of more complicated sentence structure and vocabulary, which they can assimilate into their own writing. In addition, the themes presented are often rife with life lessons and philosophy that encourages them to think beyond plot structure.

One of my favorite books to assign my capable middle school and high school students is Dickens’ Great Expectations.  A recent article in the Atlantic magazine
provided a few additional reasons for doing so.  Entitled, “Relearning the Lost Skill of Patience,” Jessica Lahey cites this particular novel as a means of leading students to  learn the concept of delayed gratification.  In our instant society, most people want answers immediately, at the touch of a button. Ms Lahey claims, ”My students clamor to know who Pip’s benefactor is and whether he will end up with Estella, but when we find out together, after weeks of travel along Pip;s journey, the answers are just that much more delicious.”

When we engage students in such intellectual pursuits, we teach them much more than literary devices. We can instill in them the ability to search, to question, and to think. And aren’t those the real life lessons we want to instill? 

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