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12 January 2015 @ 09:29 am
Grandmotherly advice  
The headline for this article in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/01/10/if-we-stop-telling-kids-what-to-read-they-might-start-reading-again/) grabbed my attention. Of course, it would. It is all about CHOICE and how important CHOICE is when it comes to books and reading. But, be forewarned: this article begins with the direct opposite of what its headline decrees. And that, folks, is what raised my blood pressure beyond what was probably a safe reading. Deep breaths, Teri. Deep breaths.

There are two things that outright angered me with this piece. The first is that it uses what I think is an important study by Scholastic (you can read that here: http://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/) as a foundation for more hand-wriging about the sad state of "leisure" reading. I will be talking more about the Scholastic study in future blogs. What really set me off was this:

"Stotsky, a self-described "professional Jewish grandmother," had plenty of suggestions. After all, she'd written the educational standards for Massachusetts's public schools, which were widely regarded as the best in the country until 2010, when they were replaced with the Common Core. She was appalled when one of her granddaughters eventually picked Catching Fire, the second book in the The Hunger Games trilogy.

The book, Stotksy said, was too easy, and in any case, she didn't think it conveyed the values that she wanted her grandkids to grow up on. "This isn't what grandma is getting you for Hanukkah," Stotsky recalled telling her."


I am a proud Nana, have been for nearly 30 years. Unlike, Dr. Stotsky, I listen to what my kids want to read and provide it for them (College Girl ransacked my shelves during Christmas break; she wanted new copies of the Harry Potter books because her were so worn out from rereading). I have no idea the age of Stotsky's grandkids or what she deems too easy. CATCHING FIRE has a 5th grade readability and a Lexile score of 820. It is almost 400 pages long. If that is all Stotsky uses for her measuring stick, there will be few titles she will deem acceptable for her grandkids, I suspect. We need to look beyond those numbers which tell us nothing to a number that is perhaps more relevant: sales of more than 19 million copies. And those sales have continued to soar well after the 1999 publication date. Move beyond numbers now to other aspects of the book: tight plotting (it serves as a bridge from the first to the third and final book in the Hunger Games series), characters who face moral dilemmas, archetypes, motifs, detailed settings.

Stotsky also takes issue with the values of the story. I wish I knew why. Is it the harsh reality of this dystopic landscape created by the author? Does it center on the tough ethical and moral issues Katniss and others need to consider? Perhaps the problem is that the adults are rather treacherous? Since the article is slim on details, I can only offer conjectures. I will point out, though, that the author of this piece is a financial columnist. That bit of information in and of itself points to my biggest issue with pieces like this and countless others: the disrespect given to reading CHOICE. Here is Stotsky satin:

"As for Stotsky, she doesn't believe that allowing children to read what they like is the right way to encourage them.

"We need kids who are reading a whole lot more, and a whole lot more demanding stuff, than they will read on their own," she said.

She notes that making time for independent reading means taking time away from instructional activities that might be more beneficial, and every minute in the classroom is precious."


Sorry, kids, there is no time at school for anything YOU might want to read. It is all about "instructional activities." Apparently, reading is not one of those (insert sarcastic font in preceding sentence). Class time is precious, I agree. But past surveys of time spent in reading classes include statistics such as 75-90% of reading class is spent with the teacher talking with any time remaining given over to actual reading. And in today's CCSS environment, I would imagine that much of the "precious" time is given over to test prep, hardly something I deem "instructional."

And finally, there is this absurd statement:

"Ideally, Stotsky thinks, children would be encouraged to read more books of their choice after school and during the summer -- if not by their grandmothers, then by teachers, who would provide them a list of suggested authors."

Yes, let's give kids time outside of school to read books of their own choice as long as they are on a list provided by teachers (or by Stotsky). Once again, statements such as this one reveal how little we can trust kids when it comes to finding books that speak to them. Poor dears, we simply must help them by giving them lists (maybe give them that list from TIME to really screw things up?). It also says reading CHOICE and independent reading is for outside of the school day and the school year. If this is the case, I wonder how many kids who are not already avid readers would elect to read once the school day or the school year has ended? You and I both know the answer to that, right?

Last night I read a blog post that listed books as ones for FUN and ones for LEARNING. Guess which category was for children's and YA literature? You got it. This dismissal of books written FOR kids is akin to the supercilious custom of patting someone on the head saying, "now, now, surely grandma knows better." In this case, I think it depends on how much grandma knows about books, real books, books that are one kids CHOOSE to read.
 
 
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