According to this muddled Washington Post story, students are reading too many classic books, thereby destroying their love of reading. Too much reading of good books is the problem?
The story implies that in the good old days before NCLB and standardized testing, teachers didn’t assign reading; there were no book lists.
With high-stakes standardized testing driving curricula and teachers increasingly required to use scripted lesson plans, what is getting lost for many teachers is the freedom to allow students to explore books of their choosing — and the time to explore the meaning, the educators say.
Scripted lessons typically are used in elementary school to teach beginning readers. Many schools scheduled 20 to 30 minutes a day for “sustained silent reading.” Students are told to read a book of their choice.
All this has nothing to do with the story’s anecdotal student, the daughter of children’s book author Louis Sachar, who burned out taking AP English and other demanding classes. Cornell-bound, she’s hardly the typical student.
The story reflexively blames testing for what appears, by Sherre Sachar’s description to be bad teaching, notes Kimberly Swygert.
How is it that Sachar’s teachers are described as either clueless of the complexities of books or too focused on esoteric details, yet it’s tests that get the blame? Even teachers who are following guidelines, or who of aware of the content on state exams, should be able to – especially in an AP class – convey the material in such a way that is thorough yet not mind-numbing.
When my daughter took honors English courses, culminating in AP English, I thought too few books were assigned. Students read books in great depth, searching for symbolism all the while, but didn’t get much breadth in their reading because they read so few books. Classic writers like Hemingway, Austen and Dickens got short shrift in favor of contemporary minority and Third World writers, though Shakespeare and Fitzgerald’s Gatsy survive.
The Post story is anti-intellectual, quoting a University of Kansas professor named John Bushman, who thinks students aren’t capable of enjoying classic books.
Curriculum often demands that those students read classics, even if students have no “clue about the theme, the syntax, the vocabulary and for the most part they really don’t care because the literature does not connect to them,” he said.
There is no “making meaning as readers” — allowing students to bring their experiences and thoughts into the analysis of meaning — because many students don’t understand what they have read, Bushman said. Teachers are left to “tell them what it means,” he said.
The debate about “relevance” certainly didn’t start with NCLB. I remember it from the paleolithic era. It seems to me that good literature is meaningful to people with a wide range of experiences. I remember walking through rooms of ninth and 10th graders during Downtown College Prep’s silent reading period and counting all the Mexican-American students enthralled by Harry Potter’s adventures at Hogwarts Academy.
The story ends with a list of books recommended by elementary students and teachers. I have to say the teachers’ list sounds boring.