Exploring the furthest reaches of literature, one book at a time.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
LitReactor's Required School Reading (and the Endless Debate Therein)
Chuck Palahniuk tipped off his Twitter followers to an article over at LitReactor discussing that timeless classroom quandry: what to do with an English class's required reading list? Does it encourage young minds to refine their literacy skills, or is it the reason more adolescents become book-hating (or book-avoiding) adults? Are classroom books presented as a launching point for children to discover new ideas and authors, or do kids see books as an obstacle between them and that precious piece of paper at the end of their educational ordeal?
LitReactor's columnist John Jarzemskyoffers a window into his early fascination with books and the eventual disinterest he developed in his high school years once teachers and school administrators foisted dense, dull books onto students from the American Literary Canon (though, to be fair, he did cite girls and other intoxicants as distractions from his private pursuit of reading, which I can't fault him for). But the main point remains: Jarzemsky's initial love of books never disappeared despite the dryness of his class texts. As an adult, he found himself returning to the "required classics" of those high school lists to experience them from a new, mature perspective. With the pressure of standardized testing and classroom discussions in the past, adults are free to enter those books from a distance and find new interpretations with a slower, thorough read. But are adults even choosing to do so?
I suppose the article struck a chord with me since the Moffatt clan added a new generational branch to the old family tree in 2011. With a seven-month-old nephew on the scene, I am (obviously) gunning for him to be a reader. Since becoming an Auntie, I've witnessed how the adults surrounding him aim to pass on certain interests and hobbies to the wee one—where I hope he values books, others want him to cherish music or develop a love for sports or any number of other activities first. We're all coming from the same place on this one. We look to the pursuits that brought us excitement and happiness as children, and we aim to give those same experiences to this little bundle of redheaded joy.
But how does one connect a child with those positive reading experiences when core curriculum, according to Jarzemsky, actively works against that goal?
I think back to my childhood and marvel at my siblings' own disengagement from books. I came from a house where both my mother and father read to us kids and also read in their free time. My mother gravitates toward mystery novels (to the point where I full-on believed she'd read every mystery novel at our local library when I was young) and my father has a soft spot for Canadian history books and literary fiction. Both parents took turns reading to me and my two siblings at bedtime, and all three of us kids attended summer reading programs at the local library. In essence, we each came to books from the exact same path and had virtually the same curriculum to contend with.
Yet, as adults, I am the only one who reads for pleasure.
Of course, everyone has their own interests and we can't all be voracious readers (much as it pains me to write that). But how is it that two out of three children from the same household lost their initial love of reading? Did it happen in the classroom, or was it a natural course of action for them? Did one bad experience beget more, or was there no real enticement from the start?
I know these questions can't be answered with a single blog post, but I've been mulling over them whenever I sit down with my nephew to read. Granted, he's at The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Canada 1 2 3 level at the moment, so the issues aren't as lofty as they'll become. In any case, I've got my eye on children's literature now and the bid for this young'un's literacy is so very on.