professornana (professornana) wrote,

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The whole kit and caboodle

The phrase dates back to 1884 and is considered archaic. I only wish kits were considered as archaic. I continue to see educational materials sold in kits: prepackaged stuff GFAK (good for all kids). This is a variation of the one-size-fits-all sort of materials. Here is a program, it will work for everyone. Here is a book everyone should read. Everyone who wants to lose weight should drink this before bedtime. Here is the miracle wrinkle remover. While not exactly snake oil (I must be channeling archaic terms this morning), these kits have at their foundation, some flaws.

1. Kits assume that learners in a classroom in Boothbay and in Houston and in San Diego are the same.

2. Kits assume that kids are the same despite all manner of aspects besides geography: age, grade, experiences, access, etc.

3. Kits rob teachers of autonomy. The teacher is the one best suited to select materials for her or his learners.

I understand that it is practical to begin with a set of materials and then build from the "basics." But what if the basics are not quite right? What if someone does not look beyond the basics? What if all kids end up getting is the one-size-fits-all?

Long ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the planet, as a middle school teacher, I had a classroom library that threatened to take over the classroom. Each book was selected by the class. Some were books I brought in, but others were books requested by the kids. Yes, I plunked down my $$$ to buy Sweet Valley High and Piers Anthony and Orphan Train books because kids requested them. There were kits even back then, kits that claimed to be the basic books I would need for 8th grade kids. But those kids did not know about Richard who read at the second grade level or Pete who read at the 12th grade level but was squarely a 13 year old reader or Anne Marie who loved books with risqué humor or Saba who longed for animal adventures or Deepta who read romance, etc.

Sure, some of the books in the kit would have circulated. And I probably already had some of the titles in my collection. But that collection shifted often. Sweet Valley High eventually lost whatever appeal it had. Kids moved on to other authors, other series, other topics. I would rather take my $$$ and make sure I had books that worked in my classroom with my readers.

One final note, and I almost hesitate to put this in writing for fear of offending inadvertently. But kits sometimes absolve us of the need to read widely. Here is the kit. Put it out. Done. Karin Perry and I have been conducting research into the reading habits and preferences of teachers and librarians, and there are many among our ore than 1000 participants who do not read very much regularly (our initial research will be published in the fall, and we are still surveying more). With more than 5000 books published each year in this billion dollar industry that, unlike the adult end of the field, continues to grow, there is a real need for us to read as much as we can.

I read widely (and sometimes deeply). Each semester I tweak the required books and the choice areas for my classes. Some books stay; new books emerge that need to be known by future school librarians. I do pay attention to the titles on various lists, especially in areas where I need to learn more (i.e., diversity). I seek out recommendations. I am happy to recommend books to folks seeking titles for one of their students or a community read title. But the idea that a kit could meet all the needs of all the learners in a grade, a school, a state--that is something that just does not work for me.
Tags: commodification, kits
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