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Beware of the single data point

Nick Mamatas observes that the horror of Edgar Allan Poe may be the way in which it is taught in school. Bored students are forced to take tests about themes or character, or write essays about a story's place in society, or are given his works so that they are somehow exposed, you know, to a Great Writer. Yet Poe is brilliant in many ways. Besides having created the detective genre, he also is the first truly modern horror writer. Our insipid exposure in elementary school ruins the adult's interest in his work.

To illustrate his point, Mamatas googles lesson plans related to Poe and finds a beaut on a wiki. The teacher's less-than-stellar projects gives Mamatas plenty of fodder to demonstrate how teaching Poe can be pathetic, defanged, and  b-o-r-i-n-g. No wonder people don't want to read Poe as adults: they've met him, been taught to loathe him, the end.

But that's one data point.

I have two other data points. One is a teacher who, on Hallowe'en, dims the lights to her classroom and reads "The Tell-Tale Heart" to her thrilled sixth graders. I have met some of her students who, years later, still recount the power of the story. The other is of a student who after a unit on poetry that included "The Raven," decided she needed books on poetry -- and very definitely Edgar Allan Poe's poetry.

I have a third data point, but it's a little older. I read "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in 7th grade. The class discussion was not at all memorable. But that reading launched me into a years-long passion for detective stories.

Which data points truly represent the teaching of Poe in today's classrooms? I don't know. I don't really think Mamatas knows either. But that wouldn't make as good an essay.

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