Hold the commentary for first-time readers

Published 4:35 pm Thursday, March 15, 2012

By JASON MAYFIELD / Community Columnist

Two invitations arrive by mail 50 years from now.

Invitation No. 1 — “You’re cordially invited to the grand release in theaters of ‘The Hunger Games: Remastered in Virtual Reality.’ We think you’re smart enough to view the movie, but we have doubts about whether or not you’ll fully appreciate the movie, so we’re going to pair you with a cranky middle-aged lady or gent who will tell you everything about the book, the movie and the TV series that followed.”

Invitation No. 2 — “You’re cordially invited to the grand release in theaters of ‘The Hunger Games: Remastered in Virtual Reality.’ We know you’ve neither read the series nor seen the original movies so please avoid all people between the ages of 60 and 75 over the next two weeks. Otherwise, they’ll kill your enjoyment by talking the movie to death.”

I can only guess the invitation you’d accept, it is the future, after all, but I’d tend to think you’d stay away from watching with a “know-it-all.” Sadly, this scene plays out in the metaphorical theater of learning as joy melts like movie popcorn as students and teachers make their way through novels.

Students give a book their first read.

Teachers give a book a sometimes 20th read. Wouldn’t classrooms be better off if the teachers and students started on equal footing?

I received a grant from The Greater Shelby County Education Foundation to purchase classrooms sets of Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors” and “Much Ado About Nothing.” The last word of the latter play title was a summary of what I knew about the two dramas as my students and I entered them.

Still, I taught the plays better than works I’ve read through dozens of times. I loved being surprised by the twists and turns of characters and plot, a joy lost with a teacher’s guide and prior impressions.

Most Star Wars fans have already learned this lesson: you argue “greatest of all time” by pointing everything out. Let first timers read books and watch films without the commentary, trusting that classics become classics for a reason.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.