Reading Lists.

“Middle School Reading List 100 Years Ago vs. Today Shows How Far American Educational Standards Have Declined”

Click on that link. It’s an important read. I needed to read it and you need to read it.

First, education is so important. I don’t care if you never went to school, have kids in any grade, or feel like you are done with school forever. Even though I have my reservations about John Green, he pretty much nailed it when he said, “Let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.” A part of a good education is learning to read. Being able to comprehend what you read and being able to write intelligently is valuable and valued in every single job/career/industry you can think of. I work in an industry where people remove body hair with wax. Sentence structure and reading don’t really spring to your mind when you think of a workplace like that do they? I can’t tell you how many people seek me out though for help writing emails to both companies and clients or for help editing service menus, website content, and product labels. Reading and writing is precious.

My mom knows I think like this, and she very awesomely sent me this link, wanting to know what I think about what the author said. After reading it, I wanted to focus on the author. I was initially angry. As a lover of young adult literature, my hackles were raised. “How dare you put J.K. Rowling and Stephen King in the same list as Twilight, sir?!” Then I took a step back and let myself breathe. I wanted to give an honest and intelligent evaluation of this idea. To do this, I’d like to take the same format as the original author, Annie Holmquist, a blogger for better-ed.org.

  1. Time Period:

Literature for young adults is not an ancient genre by any means. Ever wonder why there aren’t any books about teenagers from Homer’s time? It’s because no one was writing for kids. The best they got were thinly veiled fairytales that told them if they were bad they were going to hell, but not before having a limb chopped off or another seriously violent event happening to them. Young adult literature didn’t really become a thing until the 1950’s or 1960’s. That’s several decades after the first list was published. Teachers in 1908 have a staggeringly different pool of books to choose from than a teacher in 2015. So many more (great) books have been published in the past century. A whole genre has been developed since 1908.

That being said, I also think that Twilight should never be on a required reading list. I also think that a teacher should never require only classics to be read. Think about this: why are they teaching English? They are working to get students from one point to another—from only understanding contemporary literature to being able to understand classic literature. Just because you assign Kipling, doesn’t mean the kids are going to understand it. But just imagine a teacher assigning Harry Potter and letting the kids explore an orphan being thrust into a world he’s unfamiliar with and having to navigate unfamiliar territory, and then pairing that with Great Expectations where an orphan is thrust into a world he’s unfamiliar with and having to navigate unfamiliar territory. It takes very little to look at a kid and help them realize that they can connect with Pip just as much as they connect with Harry. It’s all in the teaching. It doesn’t matter what the teacher assigns as long as they are bringing them farther along in understanding what they are reading and challenging the students’ ideas and thought processes.

And as far as teachers choosing books for students to enjoy and actually read, they should NEVER be faulted. If a teacher is honestly trying to get a kid to enjoy reading THEY ARE NOT WRONG. A child is never going to read Dostoevsky if they don’t first enjoy reading.

  1. Thematic Elements:

I think the secondary author didn’t summarize well. It’s not that kids aren’t being taught about American History, they aren’t being taught about the history that eventually led up to American History, more or less World History, although I promise you that I don’t believe World History stopped when American was founded. It’s still happening every yesterday.

historymistake

I think teaching history is important, but a reading list for 2015 might not indicate what they are learning in their history classes. I do think cross-curriculum is important. I also think that a book might help illustrate events and concepts in a history class. You can’t tell me, though, that the reading list provided is why college students don’t know when the American Revolution was. I could load a required list full of revered classic literature that would never even touch on that fact. In fact, I could load a required reading list full of revered classic literature and unless you knew world geography you wouldn’t know that America was a country in existence.

I also think that teachers of 2015 are faced with a different challenge than teachers of 1908. While we need to know the past so we can recognize who we are and where we came from, the generation of students currently in seventh and eighth grade are facing globalization in ways that the generation of 1908 couldn’t even dream of. Kids have friends half way across the globe that they consider kindred spirits. In 1908, long distance relationships were the neighbors that lived on the farm five miles down the road. We live in a different world that is changing much fast than it was in 1908. Teachers nowadays not only have to teach students about history and current events, they have to somehow prepare their students for the world to come. You can’t do this by only using Austen. Austen’s great at social class differences, but when’s the last time you read Pride and Prejudice and thought, “Man, I really get racial privilege and discrimination?” But I’ll tell you what; I have a better understanding about racial issues by reading about blood status in Harry Potter.

  1. Reading Level

I think that seventh and eighth grade is the perfect time to start introducing harder vocabulary into students’ reading, but you can’t overload them or they’ll shut down. I think that there’s a delicate balance that needs to be kept, and I think that the teacher needs to keep a firm eye on this, remembering to actually teach reading and not just assume the student can read and only focus on the content of a story. I think in English class there should be time set aside where the teacher picks apart paragraphs with the students to teach them how to understand what a work was saying. Granted, with standardized tests and 35:1 student teacher ratios, this is all but impossible, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Conclusion:

I think Annie Holmquist and I are arguing for the same thing. I think that we both would like to see a blend of old and new texts within the classroom starting at an age younger than high school. I also think that we agree it’s what the teacher is doing. Everything is reliant on the simple fact that the teacher is in the room doing their job, teaching. Whatever text the student has in front of them, they need teachers how are going to show them how to tear apart a paragraph, to illustrate how to argue for and/or against what the author is saying, and to support them in their reading endeavors.

I don’t agree with the secondary author’s commentary. I think he took someone else’s work and, like the sidekick of a bully in a movie, kept saying, “Yeah. What she said,” and shooting off random and irrelevant side comments. I can’t pinpoint anything that he added that I thought enhanced what Holmquist originally wrote. I would have rather he simply copy and paste Holmquist’s original post. I would have gotten more out of it.

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