I remember that guilty feeling of being academically Dishonest when I first used "Cliff's Notes" as a high school student. I borrowed the book from the library and read it, unbeknown to anyone but my true friends in crime. I was probably the most honest student in high school and yet I felt so guilty sneaking off at night to read "Cliff's Notes" under my blanket with a small flash light.
It felt like I was cheating on an exam.
My teachers never really alluded to the books, almost avoiding mentioning even their existence. We were meant to read the novels assigned to us and use our minds to construct our own meanings from the literature that we were reading.
However, during class, when the literature was presented and the teacher would ask us to reveal what we thought a particular passage meant, we all knew that there was a right and a wrong answer. There was the true meaning that the author wanted to convey. If we did draw on a meaning that did not match the author's, our thought process was acknowledged, but the teacher moved on to another answer that was more along the lines of what we should have gotten out of the literary work.
It never failed that the student who had read the "Cliff's Notes" was the one who got the answers right in class and the one who got high marks on the tests.
As a student back in High School, I was still learning and I would have loved to have a book, like "Cliff's Notes" that was also a required reading. As a required reading, we could all understand on a basic level what the author was trying to tell us in his story, however from that we would have also been able to interject our own thought processes into the discussion. It would have been an interesting study on the interpretation of say, Shakespeare's works, in today's society.
This would have allowed us to learn Shakespeare and to also have our own ideas accepted and entertained as a possibility.
As an adult, I now routinely look for "Cliff's Notes", especially with some books that I find hard to understand. Granted, I am not a PhD on English Literature, by any means, but I do consider myself an avid reader. I feel that "Cliff's Notes" should be implemented into the school system as a kind of supplement to the novels that are a required reading. It makes the entire process less stressful and enables the new reader to fully understand the work of art. The form of writing has changed dramatically over a few hundred years. Sometimes it is extremely tough to understand and fully grasp the meaning of a sentence, much less an entire novel, without the aid of a series of books like "Cliff's Notes".
I wish and hope that today's children will have that luxury to be able to use "Cliff's Notes" as a supplement, not as a substitute for reading literature.