Also, It’ s Time To Stop Burying The Lead

August 9th, 2005 · 4 Comments
by Booksquare

We are lucky: we remember a time when reading was actually something one did in school. You sat down with a book, often one of your own choosing, and you read it. Right there in public. In full view of other students. Of course, they were also reading (or pretending to read), so it was okay. Nobody would get hurt.

Somewhere along the line, we got the notion that passing tests is the same as being educated. With reading, you can test comprehension, you can regurgitate key facts, but it’s really hard, for the young, to check off a box describing how a story made them feel or what ideas were spurred by the story. As we read the opinion piece in USA Today on reading, we kept thinking, “Why not toss the compendiums and pick good stuff?” And, finally, our question was answered, at the very end:

It’s time for states and school districts to kick the mega-textbook habit that four or five big corporations control and start spending money on the kind of books that will make kids want to do sustained reading, to get lost in the written word. For English classes, that’s paperback novels (whole novels) and collections of short stories (complete short stories) and poetry.

Exposure to a wide range of cultures and ideas through literature is key to understanding our world. But sometimes reading should just be about reading. Pick up a book that interests you and let it go.

File Under: Square Pegs

4 responses so far ↓

  • Kristin // Aug 10, 2005 at 6:05 am

    And I thought they were so forward-thinking at my high school in the 80s. We had a 15- or 20-minute ‘reading period’ every day. For a person who loved books and would hide a book in my desk to try to read duriing a boring class, this was heaven! What happened to that iniative? (this was in California)

    Do they really not read novels anymore in junior high and high school? What about a trip to the school library? That also used to be incorporated into our week. Have things really gotten so bad??

  • Norma // Aug 10, 2005 at 6:17 am

    When I read criticism of today’s teaching and textbooks, I do wonder when the “golden age” of education happened. I graduated from h.s. in 1957 and we used literature compendiums, arranged chronologically then. I can’t recall ever being assigned a complete book. I think we had Brit Lit as juniors and American Lit as seniors. Fortunately, we were spared the glitzy graphics and snippets imbedded in boxes (I think that is for an internet raised generation). I am a liberal arts graduate of a fine university and never had an American or British literature course. Education is what you do on your own.

  • Booksquare // Aug 11, 2005 at 8:38 am

    I grew up in a military town in the…well, a longish time ago…this is important because we had a daily reading period called U.S.S.R. Because this still seems surreal to me (hello, Cold War?), I confirmed it with my mother. It was a program named Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading. Loved, loved, loved it. Would have happily given up math for more of that. Nobody heeded my opinion.

    Kids still make trips to the library — the mother is an elementary school librarian and has a full set of daily classes. Kids are read to, kids choose books. This year, there is no money for new titles in her library. It’s all going to support No Child Left Behind. She buys books with her own money far too often. Testing matters, but so does learning, and the two are not necessarily the same thing.

    Compendiums are great, but they’re designed to teach a certain skill set. Reading for pleasure is an entirely different thing. While not every kid takes to it, the art of sitting and absorbing words and ideas remains important.

  • Susan Gable // Aug 11, 2005 at 10:15 am

    When I was teaching, I called it D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) or SSR (Sustained Silent Reading.) Delight of all delights, I also read while the kids read! No grading papers. No working on plans for next week. No, this teacher sat and modeling the behavior she wanted the kids to emmulate. (They did fine on the standardized tests, too. So this kind of reading does HELP those *%#( scores.) We talked about what we were reading. I also read aloud to my classes on a daily basis. That’s what I miss the most about no longer teaching – no longer getting to share the pure power of books with kids. I know I was able to pass on more than the reading skills – I was able to transfere the PASSION for books that I held. Maybe not to all of them. But to a lot of them.

    (Sometimes we even took the WHOLE afternoon “off” and spent it reading! Sssssshhhhhh!)

    I also modeling journaling for my kids, too. And we read from novels (starting in 2nd grade) instead of a reading textbook that had choppy little stories. Those were the days. (Late 80’s to mid 90’s, so not all that long ago! (g) )