SparkNotes have received an infamous reputation for offering simplified versions of works of literature. SparkNotes is a company that offers study materials for students online and in print.

Time and time again students have turned to SparkNotes when they neglect to complete their assigned reading for class. In effect, SparkNotes has become synonymous with cheating and cutting corners. However, as a high school student, I find the situation with SparkNotes more complex than that.

At best, SparkNotes is a study tool. I have often used it to review material before an exam. But–importantly– I have always completed my reading assignments. At worse, it’s a resource for students to use to cheat and cut corners on literature exam. Students who rely on tools like SparkNotes can lose the development that reading challenging works and forming opinions on theses works creates.

Reading challenging works and comprehending them in an academic setting is more important than ever before. Today, the average teenager is consuming an overwhelming amount of content that is being thrown at them in easy and concise formats that are engineered to grab a person’s attention.

It’s obvious that staring at an Instagram feed is much more visually stimulating than staring at a book even if it is less mentally stimulating. When one considers the news cycle of today and the future, it’s vital that my generation learns to become independent thinkers who can discern fact from fiction. Literature classes are just one of the elements in a person’s education that promotes and teaches students how to engage in discourse and form individual opinions that can be supported with facts. Schools don’t assign literature because they think that knowing the plot to Macbeth will help a student get a job, but because it helps develop the student into well-rounded thinkers. But, if there is a website that tells a student everything they are supposed to think about a work, then why bother when someone else has done the work for you.

But, like coins, this has two sides. SparkNotes does simplify works of literature. However, it could be argued that SparkNotes makes works more accessible to a larger audience and demystifies these works that in past have been viewed as elitist. They do have some great study tools such as vocabulary and plot quizzes, as well as summary videos which can be useful when reviewing for a test or writing a paper.

It is also worth noting that they do have unabridged complete published texts of books for free such as Pride and Prejudice, Frankenstein, The Odyssey, Great Expectations, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

To be clear, I don’t think it was the intention of SparkNotes to give students an easy way out of studying SparkNotes, like all other tools created by humanity, possesses the power to do good and evil. It is up to the people who have the tools to decide how they will be used.

Morgan Holder is an intern at the Jackson County Sentinel. She can be reached at morgan.holder@jcsentinel.com.

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