Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In Response to "What Kids Are Reading: In School and Out"

This story has me so riled up I could spit. There are four points that are so wrong on so many levels. For one, kids and teens are reading more now than I’ve ever seen in my life. Forty years ago when I was a teenager I rarely ever met anyone who liked to read but now I regularly hear from lots of kids and teens who are reading and talking about books. Two, leveling books is a flawed system and contributes to turning some students off reading. Three, the classics, books from a different age that used longer syllables, words, and sentences may not be the same classics students read in high school decades ago. They may have the same titles and character names but as I understand it, bowdlerized classics were the norm rather than the exception. Four, last but not least – genre is not a bad thing. The gratuitous bashing of genre, a way of classifying story by type, does not speak to the worthiness of books.

My mission in life is to put people together with the stories that will teach, inspire, incite active thought, and last but not least, entertain. People do not become fluent avid readers by decoding and analyzing text. They become readers by reading. Reading is like golf. You can learn the vocabulary and see, hear, or read how golf is played. But, no one becomes a competent golfer without actually golfing and spending a substantial amount of time to master the sport. If it were not enjoyable, very few people would ever stick with it long enough to become accomplished. The same thing is true of reading. One becomes a competent reader by reading. The hours and pages it takes to become a good reader are fun and easy if the reading material is enjoyable.

So many times it takes just the right book to introduce an individual to the joys of reading. My father-in-law didn’t enjoy reading until he was 75 and read Harris and Me by Gary Paulson. My husband was in his 40s when Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child turned him into someone who reads for pleasure rather than someone who only reads work related material. My son as an emerging reader at age 3 became an ardent reader when he fell in love with headlines on Weekly World News at the market check-out. It is a tragedy to not allow our children to be hooked by a book while in school.

The way reading is taught in this country seems to be a diabolical plan to keep people from being readers. Too many schools using AR keep students from reading anything they are interested in by only allowing students to “read” at their level. AR takes the intrinsic value of reading away and replaces it with points and prizes. Struggling students and gifted students are both hurt by this. Students are forced to read material that may have the requisite number of syllables, words, and sentences for their “level” but have no appeal, no life, no joy. Students, whether above or below level, are hurt by not being allowed to read the books that are popular with their peers and removing them from the conversation that circulates between readers of the same books. If something is important to the reader, he or she will be more able to read it and make sense of it than an advanced reader who has no interest in it. I think it was Kelly Gallagher in Readicide who used an anecdote about low reading level baseball playing students who were able to read and understand an article about the intricacies of baseball better than a group of students with high reading scores but no interest in baseball.

Where I really have issues with the story is the disparagement of genre. Great literature can appear in any genre just as much mediocre fiction is published in the literary fiction genre. Genre should not be a barrier to finding terrific books, it should be a window into new worlds, new ideas, and other's lives.

If you want to hear or read the NPR story it is "What Kids Are Reading."

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