In literature we often read about tragedies. Not always can we relate to them sentimentally. In this case we are talking about a tragedy that relates to each person in Israel no matter what his/her political view is. Why is the tragedy of Richard Cory more of a literary piece than Grains of Sand?
Why I voted to include "Grains of Sands" as recommended reading in the high school classroom
This novel will not be considered "great literature." However, our students should be exposed to varied genres of worthwhile novels. Reading the writing of a peer will certainly have a good effect on our students, perhaps even giving them the "courage" to express themselves more freely in writing, something that we as English teachers work very hard to accomplish with our students.
A worthwhile book for any literature curriculum
The book is a "process" story and by that I mean it took me on a journey. I emotionally fell apart at the end ... but the ending doesn't stand alone. Academically I found the part where Shifra Shomron interviewed residents who explained or shared how Israel slowly lost identity, profound. She explained it from such an innocent yet violated perspective.
A Parent's Voice
I'm commenting as a parent of students. I am aware of what my children and their peers are learning. I have read "Grains of Sand", but as I am not a teacher I have not voted and will not vote. I attended a top-rate secular private school in New Jersey and continued on to Cornell University. In high school and before we read "all The Greats" of English literature: Shakespeare, Hemingway, Thurber, Dickens, Dickenson, etc. Most of my classmates found Shakespeare to be extremely difficult and not much there with which to identify. I can't imagine Israeli students identifying with the Bard's writing at all, if they can make it through more than a few pages. Although some of us enjoyed the works, we all related to the characters more as historical figures than we identified with them. Based on what I've seen in Israel, and thinking back to my high school studies with native English speaking college bound classmates, in my opinion Dickens and Hemingway, among others, are beyond the understanding of the vast majority of all but the very best Israeli high school students. Nobody is claiming that the language of Ms. Shomron's book is as complex as that of any of the writers mentioned in these comments. The novel though, is by no means superficial and does have multiple layers and themes. Being as the English comprehension of Israeli students is what it is, the level of her writing is a suitable option. "The Greats", as great as they are, are too often too difficult, especially for ESL students.
Min of Ed approved Gush Katif Day
The Ministry of Education approved a Gush Katif Day. It's already part of the curriculum. As such this novel has a place in the Israeli school system.
The student of today doesn't read. Remember the US slogan, "Reading is Fundamental" - get the kids reading! A book written by one of their peers is great inspiration.
This young author has many articles, poems, and translations to her credit. There's a list on her website.
Presenting "literature with a capital L" is not the way to kill motivation for reading. Presenting any literature poorly, or teaching literature you yourself don't enjoy reading, is the way to do it.
That's why curricula usually have both required and elective items, and most teachers can find items among both that they like and can teach well.
I personally think that if you look through a "Literature" list and can't find in it anything you can and would like to teach, then "English teacher" may not have been the right career choice.
High school students can find so much to identify with in Shakespeare,in Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, in Arthur Miller, in more contemporary writers like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver and - don't get me started! If none of these turn your kids on, maybe you have to look at how they're being taught. THAT's what a training course in literature should be about, not just how to evaluate projects and figure their grades into the final grade.
As to the political issue - maybe if the news article hadn't said "disengagement novel" we could judge it more fairly. It will be interesting to see if this young writer ever tries to write more, or on any other subject. Isn't that also a test of good literature - a writer who has more than one statement to make?
Presenting literature with a capital "L" (Shakespeare, Joyce, etc) is the surest way to kill the motivation to read. American public schools know this and have introduced populist writing, teacher's choice, into the curriculum. Grains of Sand, written by your student's peer, presents a contemporary subject from a teenager's perspective at American high school level English. It is fiction based on the author's experiences, not a history or political science text book - there is no obligation for "balance". When the Israeli Ministry of Education introduced the anti zionist/ anti Jewish PLO poet Darwish or the Nakba - there was no pretense of "balance". Israel is a Jewish and zionist state, the book reflects that - no apologies necessary. An added bonus is the author herself. She is an exemplary role model to Israel students, especially young women, to be assertive and express themselves through writing.
The main question should be: But is it literature?
I am not going to get into a political argument of any sort here, because that is not the main issue as far as I'm concerned. What we really should be asking is whether this book is literature or not. Read the book and decide for yourselves.
When the whole controversy over whether this book should become part of the literature program broke out, I picked up a copy and started reading it. To be honest, I was quite unimpressed by the quality of the writing, and for me, that is enough reason to nix it. Even if I felt that the message conveyed was of vital importance to my students, I still wouldn't dare call this literature. Maybe if the book were entirely rewritten... Therefore, I think that it's unfair to turn this into a political issue.
If you haven't read the book, go ahead and do so. I think that most teachers will agree that the writing is just not up to par - if I had to choose between this and Harry Potter for the literature program, I'd choose Harry Potter, where at least the writing is good...
Part of Our History
Living in Netivot with pupils and staff from the former Gush Katif settlements, I have used portions of "Grains of Sand" in one of my classes as part of our Literature program. Whatever ones politics, the "disengagement" ("GERUSH") was a part of our recent history that youngsters in some parts of the country know little about. Shifra's writing is beautifully descriptive, and my pupils greatly enjoyed the parts we read.
quality of literature is more important than content!
I have read the book and so I feel entitled to an opinion. I live in the Shomron and therefore I have no problem with the politics of the book. On the contrary, from my political point of view I believe it would be beneficial for Israeli students to read this book. HOWEVER, as an English teacher I do not believe that this book should be included in the curriculum. It is NOT literature in any sense of the word. It is a very simply written, childish book,and is more suited to junior high school students than twelfth graders. I lent it to some of my students to read for their extensive reading and they found it boring. Sharon Nussbacher
Why not a poll about every single book in the running?
It is outrageously prejudicial to have a poll about one book and not all? There are a number of advantages to having Israeli students read the book, no matter what the politics. 1- Encourage the kids to write. Written expression should be encouraged. 2- Few people are opinionless about Disengagement, so you should be able to get your students to talk or use it as the springboard for projects etc. 3- Today's students don't read all that much, and they may enjoy reading about other teens. And I agree with Judy, that if you haven't read the book, you shouldn't vote. Yes, I read it. It's well-written and deals with everyday life, not politics.
We are supposed to be teaching literature and not politics. With all due respect to this young writer, whom I admittedly have not yet read, it is hard to imagine that she is in the same class as Shakespeare, Joyce, Frost and Malamud, to mention but a few. I too belong to the school that believes that teaching English literature is about expanding horizons - looking out, rather than in. I wholeheartedly agree with those who have said that if a teacher so chooses, he/she should teach it, just as we bring in lots of other material to class.
First of all, the issue is totally specious because we all know this book has no chance of being approved as the novel that all pupils taking the Module F exam will have to read. Second of all, if our guiding criterion is quality of literature, then there are so many other books that have stood the test of time and qualify over and above this one. Moreover, I oppose introducing into the curriculum an issue which is as politically charged as this one. If book publishers must walk on eggshells in order not to offend the sensibilities of the religious public (I recall one book in which the lyrics of the Paul Simon song "Richard Cory" had to be changed from "orgies" to "orchards") then I ask that my sensibilities be respected as well.
The reason that we can't have this book on the list is that it's too close to home and too one-sided. How many of the people who vote for Grains of Sand would be happy to see a book on another 'disposession' of land in our area - the Nakba? I have a feeling that many of them wouldn't want that (and neither would I).
Although there is no escaping politics in this country, I don't think the literature program should include such politically charged contemporary works as this one. If this is approved as part of the mandatory literature program, then there is no reason a novel taking the view that Israel's independence is indeed a tragedy - "naqba." I don't think we should go in either direction.
Deciding because of context or quality of literature
If we can believe the book reviews, both from Israel and abroad, this book does clearly have literary merit, so that doesn't appear to be the issue. It appears that people who are voting against the inclusion of the novel in the Literature program, just as with the Ministry employee who dismissed it out of hand, are doing so because of their own political beliefs, rather than any real professional considerations.
We need all types of literature in the Literature Program for the Bagrut. In addition to what we may consider as the classics, we need literature which also speaks to the immediate environment of our pupils. Literature must help them cross cultures and help them understand things which are foreign to them. There is a wide diversity in the fabric of the Israeli culture. Most of the youth in Israel only know of the culture of those who were targeted for disengagement through the Israeli press. And we know that we cannot rely on the press to get a good picture. Here is an excellent opportunity. Let's not miss it because of our own narrow outlook.
What is the criterion?
If you want to know whether we can have a book on a controversial political subject, then of course we can. I'm sure many people who loved Gone With the Wind never espoused the lifestyle that it glorifies. And when we taught Incident at Vichy, no one complained that it could insult people of French origin.
However, if this is a question of whether a book (or story or poem) should be included as an option in a school curriculum based on its quality, then obviously the only people who can respond to this poll are people who have already read the book. I hope and trust that no one was irresponsible enough to vote without having read the book.