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Why We Teach Books Like Night

 

Weisel2Elie Wiesel died Saturday and my first thoughts were of Night and the many times it has and continues to be taught and the many times it has been challenged and censored.

Those who challenge the book say it’s too sad, violent, untrue, sexual, and horrific for teen readers.

Yet in Night, Wiesel says,

“…I believe it important to emphasize how strongly I feel that books, just like people, have a destiny. Some invite sorrow, others joy, some both.”

A text can be many things, even opposite things, but a good text lives for its readers.

Esther Meisel gives her reasons for selecting Night as a text for her classroom in “‘I Don’t Want to Be a Bystander’: Literature and the Holocaust” (English Journal, September 1982).

“How, I asked myself, was I to motivate the restless, dissatisfied youngsters who so easily could become one of the forty-five percent who drop out of New York City schools yearly? I needed to teach something that had meaning and was timely without sacrificing literary excellence.”

The complete unit that her article details ended with these questions,

“In what ways does this literature help us understand how and why the Holocaust occurred? Can we, as students and citizens of the world, use this understanding towards the establishment of a more humane world?”

Her students answered, “Yes.” And many connected their learning to current issues in their world like the torture and torment of the Cambodian and Vietnamese boat people.

Wiesel once said,

“There is divine beauty in learning… To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you.”

This is why we teach books like Night.