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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Children can read any book they want. (Really?)

The New York Times, in yet another of its front page articles extolling improvements in education is very excited that: “Starting this fall, the school district in Chappaqua, N.Y., is setting aside 40 minutes every other day for all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to read books of their own choosing.”

Woo hoo!

You mean occasionally they will allow children to do something that they are actually interested in doing in school?

Not so fast.

Will students be able to bring in Popular Mechanics or even the New York Times? No, of course not. They will choose books approved by teachers. But, even this appalls the Times approved Bush appointee Diane Ravitch, who is always on the side of everything backward in education. She worries that no “child is going to pick up Moby Dick.”


The Times goes on to say that: “In the method familiar to generations of students, an entire class reads a novel — often a classic — together to draw out the themes and study literary craft. That tradition, proponents say, builds a shared literary culture among students, exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to prepare students for standardized tests.”

It didn’t take them long did it? Yea tests.

This is just more baloney intended to make the public feel like things are getting better in schools when In fact things are so bad that no one is happy (except maybe Diane Ravitch.) You can’t allow real choice in school because then you can’t test it to see what kids have done.

I once built a program meant to get kids to learn the geography of the U.S without really trying, as they searched around the country for stuff they were interested in. It worked quite well. Kids loved it and they learned geography.

Nope. Rejected. Why?

Because some students might go to California and others might go to New York. How would we test them? As soon as the tests appear innovation goes out the window. You mean kids would learn different stuff? Omigod!

In any case, this “choose what to read program” is an illusion. It is better than being force fed Moby Dick for sure but what it is the real goal? The Times says; “Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.”

That is the goal. Making kids read a lot in the hope that some of them will like it. Same as the math goal of shoving algebra down their throats in case any one likes it. Kids rarely like what you make them do, or am I the only who has noticed that?

Can you live a long and happy life without having a love of literature? I think so. It is important to learn to read but that does not mean, by any means, that one needs to read “literature.” If it isn’t obvious to people by now, literature will soon be ancient history anyway. While humans have always told stories and always learned from them, they have not always had “literature.” Novels have become common place for a very brief moment in human history and are now clearly being replaced by television and movies (for better or for worse, that is what is happening.)

Teachers and politicians hate this of course. What I hate is that the idea of discussing life choices and issues in getting along in this world, which is a positive benefit of discussing literature, can only be done by reading Moby Dick according to the experts. There are any other ways to do learn to think about life.

We have, as a society, lost the forest for the trees. While we could be teaching deeply about why they do what they do, instead we are teaching them to pass tests. We insist that they learn what was fashionable for the elite to learn a century ago. And we torture them and wonder why they drop out. Moby Dick indeed!

1 comment:

Deirdre said...

My daughter is severely dyslexic and the school treated her like she was unteachable so I pulled her out of the system and home schooled her based on an inquiry model. I let her choose the path to acquire the info she needed to achieve the goals set out by the school board. Sometimes she chose educational games, sometimes experimenting, sometimes books, and frequently the Internet. As a result she developed incredible research skills and a desire to learn.

She is now 22 and pregnant. Every day she phones me with some new research she has been reading about pregnancy. Reading is still a struggle but her use of books and internet resources is no different than mine.

I think her story would have been very different if I had let her continue in the school system.