When asked which term would better describe the best high school classrooms, only about 5% replied with the term rigorous. About the same percentage opted for demanding. The overall favorite was challenging at about 35% approval. I think it is time to consider our words a bit more carefully. Whether we intend to or not, sometimes the language we select sends a message. That is certainly the case of the EdWeek piece I have been talking about all week: http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919801&bcid=25919801&rssid=25919791&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Ftm%2F%3Fuuid%3D67790FFE-6204-11E5-913C-71C9B3743667.
As we near the end of Banned Books Week, I think that perhaps we need to examine this dismissing of all things YA in the light of censorship. Someone who insists that students read only from an approved list is, in effect, narrowing the selection of books. He or she is narrowing the experiences of readers. I do not care if this occurs within the classroom only. As a matter of fact, I think this purposeful limiting of what can be read especially in the confines of the classroom is censorship. Read this. Not that. This is the book that contains the truth. Not that one. This is the book that is valued. Not that one. If everything students are reading is selected by one person (or even a committee, department, etc.), then we are shutting down avenues of discourse, trains of thought, ways of tackling text.
The EdWeek piece concludes: "The compelling force behind the whole-class study is that the teacher and students are embarking on the journey together. The added connections to recent events render the classic text relevant for students. The study is cohesive and focused. The single text community of readers makes discussion deeper, more robust. How many times have we, as adults, gleaned insight by talking about a book with others who are also reading it? "
The journey is an essential one. But it should be a journey and not a safari. It is not something to be led; it is something to be shared. When the teacher selects the text, the guiding questions, the activities, I have to ask: where is the shared part of the journey beyond the text (and if you watched Penny Kittle's You Tube presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gokm9RUr4ME&list=PLJDiJ7GsjAvjSRiqJA_ny7R1lIjlf_aNJ you should have some insight into what can happen when all reading is directed by a teacher)?
The concluding question from the article talks about how wonderful it is to share book talk with someone else who has read the same book. Yes, I love that discussion. I have discussions like this almost every single day with colleagues and friends. But we have not always read the same book. More often than not, we talk about what we have been reading. That talk generally leads to others reading the book, too. Imagine how many connections we could make if kids were selecting books and we then read what they elected to read? Imagine how much more kids would come to respect our recommendations if we also respected theirs? Imagine. Imagine. Imagine.