The Horror…The Horror…
I know it’s not part of the latest podcast, but I think the thousands of you who listen will be a little aghast…The Future of Reading – ‘Reading Workshop' Approach Lets Students Pick the Books – Series – NYTimes.com.
Perhaps some CraftLit listeners should respond.
And just to be clear (though you already know what I think)—I do think there’s a time and a place to pick your own books in school. Heck, y’all do that every day. But a classroom, it seems to me, should mostly be a place where you get encouraged, sure, (choose your own books with or without guidance) but where you get encouraged and get help to understand the hard stuff. Easier to do en masse. Better discussions that way. Learn from each other and all that.
I find it hard to imagine that ANY 13 year old needs help understanding the themes of Captain Underpants. (no slam on C.U., btw. Lots of kids start reading b/c they enjoy his exploits…but again…you don’t need a teacher to help you understand those books, IMHO)
UPDATE per your awesome comments–Yeserroonie, when I taught HS I had kids do SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) for the first 10 min. of class in a book from home or one of my (maaanny) paperbacks. I had a wide range of age/difficulty levels, but tried to choose stuff that at the very least had something interesting to say. But then, you know, I’d still teach something. The 10 min were a great calming device, made it so the next 42 min wasn’t a scramble to contain them, and gave them a moment to feel powerful in the midst of my benevolent dictatorship.
I also had a research assignment at the end of the year, again, with a range of books (plus kids could bring something in that fit the assignment criteria). They had to read the book then research the context of when these books were written–what was going on in the world when Trumbo wrote Johnny Got His Gun? Why did he pull it from publication when Vietnam was in full swing? What had happened when Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse 5? Why did In Cold Blood rock everyone’s world? Why was Passing so revolutionary? I was always impressed by the choices the kids made (and the books they brought in) at the end of each year and am absolutely convinced their amazing book picks were as interesting as they were because they were proud that they made it through the “hard stuff” with flying colors–they knew they could do anything at that point.
It’s the excuses that irk me.
If you hated Huck Finn in HS (as I did) but you still teach it, it had better be because you read it again when you were older and found that it’s a freakin’ work of genius. Otherwise–teach something else. But don’t ruin the next generation of kids on the book–deeply unfair to the poor kids. I had to relearn everything I read in HS myself (and I was a voracious reader on my own). Unfortunately, I had many lousy English teachers in HS.
But I get awfully frustrated by the excuses teachers give for not doing the hard work of figuring out how to teach the darn books (and making proper book selections–like don’t try to teach Huck Finn to 8th graders–they haven’t even gotten through a real course of American History yet!).
OH! And to the question below about why this happens. I had an interesting Ed Sociology professor at NYU who made some offhand remark about education leaving the Normal Schools (where women did their 5th year to become woefully underpaid teachers, back in the day) and moving the whole shebang over to the Universities. Something occurred to me then–we’ve pretty much identified education’s peak as Socrates. And online learning can–if done right–take you back to that Jeffersonian “private tutor” mode of learning which was also rather successful, what with everyone reading Sophocles in the original Greek or Plutarch in the Latin.
Seems to me that education started to plummet in rigor and relevance when the first wave of baby boomers started to get into the universities*. There’s the whole “publish or perish” thing that (sadly) comes with being a professor. Thus, I posit the following–a lot of people in a lot of ed schools have made a lot of stuff up in order to keep their jobs (hint–always ask for their data). And the schools these days do seem to indoctrinate rather than educate. I went to two different ed schools, one on each coast. Different indoctrination, same m.o.
I seem to remember my mom saying to me, when I complained about some teacher being boring, “Look, it isn’t their job to entertain you, it’s your job to learn. They’re not stopping you from learning. You are.”
Seems that’s part of the argument too.
Heck, maybe I just need to clone my mom…? There’s no question that well more than 50% of my “real” education came from my home.
*I know…that’s a whole ‘nuther topic…