I have long-held a disdain for the way reading and books are presented in schools. At a time when kids are trying to be cool by gaming, watching the right TV shows, seeing cool movies, Snap-chatting themselves half-naked, and sleeping until noon, schools try to suck all the fun out of reading.
Up until high school kids are more likely to read regularly for pleasure. At high school this rate declines markedly, and doesn’t really recover until retirement (if at all, as I’d argue that the older people making up those Pew survey numbers grew up in an age before internet, decent TV, and gaming). Not only are teens exposed to more other potential entertainment sources, they also find less enjoyment in reading. Something happens in high school. Something terrible. We assign them standardised texts to read!
In his book, Readicide, Kelly Gallagher explains why the American system has been failing kids and how to fix it. I think many of the points apply to any nation that utilises an emphasis on standardised testing for schools. Below is a summary presentation that you can navigate to by clicking on the image. Worth a look for any fellow book nerds and/or parents.
I don’t actually agree with everything in the overview, namely the idea that classics are classics for a reason. You have to remember that the reason a book becomes a classic is often chance, or because some person reckons it should be, not because it is always good. Plenty of good books have undoubtably been lost in obscurity and thus to history. An example of a book now regarded as a classic that was almost lost to history is Moby Dick. It faded into obscurity after its release and was pretty much forgotten until one literary critic – Carl Van Doren – revived the novel 70 years after its publication. So one guy reckoned it was good, others nodded and agreed with him, and so that means it’s a classic.*
The idea that kids should be reading classics or literary “masterpieces” is part of the problem, in my opinion. This is very much a top down decree of what is important by people who have made a career out of lecturing others on what is important…. to them. Just because they like it doesn’t mean that it will inspire kids to be lifelong readers.
Now, that isn’t to say that those “important” books aren’t worth reading. But it is to say that there is a stark difference between what a literary critic or scholar deems good, and what a kid who just read Harry Potter for the first time deems good. School curriculums would be better off without trying to bash kids over the heads with books they are unlikely to enjoy.
*Yes, I’m being overly simplistic.
3 thoughts on “Readicide”
I think there also may be an overreliance in the idea that schools should be the start and end of all that a kid needs to know, from how to behave to literacy in about everything before they even reach 16. A bit like cooking: families have a responsibility to offer more than McDonald books.
On the other hand, schools are also there to present a wide range of texts. How mnay kids would never get to know poetry or theatre plays if they were counting on their family’s libraries? There is something to be said for stretching kids’ minds (and adults too). Most of it will get lost, but some nuggets will stick.
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That’s a good point, Odile. Education should be lifelong. And awareness is essential. In many respects it could be argued that awareness is all that school can achieve as genuine knowledge of A subject takes decades, let alone many subjects.
That said, choosing to expose kids to “great works” as decided upon by people with the wrong goals for education is still wrong. Can we really bash a kid over the head with some literary masterpiece that the majority of adults would never to choose to read themselves? Isn’t that counterproductive? I’d argue it is.
Instead if we create a learning environment which encourages discovery of books that will lead to kids reading masterpieces, then I think we achieve more.
Of course, I could just be moaning about some pseudo-intellectual literary critic getting to decide what people read.