Reading a book and textingOkay, so the new craze sweeping the teaching profession is to let students pick their own reading material. Oi vey.

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As a professor, I already get enough students who have sub-par reading skills — I really don’t want to see more. I also see too many (college-educated) adult friends of mine who read virtually nothing past a sixth-grade reading level (Harry Potter, anyone?). If we keep on dropping the bar on students, soon they’re not going to read anything complex or challenging until grad school (if they get there).

Quite simply, they won’t be prepared to be the type of citizen who can weigh options when voting or participate in the arts.

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I know the NYT article was talking about junior high, but it’s all a pyramid, and elementary schools lowering their standards for reading drops the standard for junior high, and lowering junior high standards drops high school levels, and lowering high school levels leaves me with students in college who are so unable to interact with language that it’s obvious the university is only trying to turn a profit.

And this parsing between junk and worse junk is hilarious:

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“Despite the student freedom, Ms. Atwell constantly fed suggestions to the children. She was strict about not letting them read what she considered junk: no “Gossip Girl” or novels based on video games. But she acknowledged that certain children needed to be nudged into books by allowing them to read popular titles like the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer.”

Catherine E. Snow, quoted in the article, says:

“But if the goal is, how do you make kids lifelong readers, then it seems to me that there’s a lot to be said for the choice approach.”

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Notice how low the bar has dropped. Now it’s not about teaching how to read, but just getting anyone (anyone! please!) to scan words for the rest of their lives. Twelve years of mandatory education, with millions going through sixteen years, and our goal is only to make lifelong readers? Please. Teachers: you need to have a bit more self-respect. You need to be just the tiniest bit more ambitious.

Another way at getting at the problem: The teacher (who can’t read ALL the books her students pick) has no additional insight to offer to the student.

In other words, once again, this style of teaching encourages reading as a medium of communication, but doesn’t teach how to read well, because the teacher can’t point out anything her students didn’t notice.

I suggest a different motivator than the “choice approach” Catherine E. Snow seems to find so efficacious. What about teaching students about the mysteries inside books? What about teaching them to see that what they read was only a small fraction of what was there? What about treating books as treasures that can be mined again and again, full of secrets and surprises?

Because that type of teaching not only promotes literature, but also would seem to be a pretty great motivator.