Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"You Should Never Take a Class That Requires You to Read Beowulf"

I've been noticing an increasingly relevant debate going on regarding what kids are assigned to read in schools -- whether required books are too difficult, to stale, or just misunderstood. Whaddya know -- there's been some pretty good thoughts posted on both sides of the argument. Here's a brief rundown:

Author Shannon Hale (Princess Academy) has frequently written and spoken about the lack of contemporary or genre literature that has been accepted as part of the high school canon.

Hale also quotes Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak) on this topic:

"Read this from a report of the National Institute
of Literacy: 'The ability to read and understand complicated information is
important to success in college and, increasingly, in the workplace. An analysis
of the NAEP long-term trend reading assessments reveals that only half of all
White 17 year olds, less than one-quarter of Latino 17 year olds, and less than
one-fifth of African American 17 year olds can read at this level.
By age 17,
only about 1 in 17 seventeen year olds can read and gain information from
specialized text, for example the science section in the local newspaper. This
1 in 12 White 17 year olds,1 in 50 Latino 17 year olds, and1 in 100
African American 17 year olds.'
I wish we had all of our 17 year olds to the
point where we could have them enjoy Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Thoreau, and, yes,
Hawthorne. But to get them to that point, THEY MUST LEARN HOW TO READ. Their
chances of developing into literate adults are greatly enhanced if we hand them
books that are interesting, engaging, and written in the vernacular. Most of the
Classics do not fit that definition.

(Sorry for the long quote; I couldn't quite find the link for this.)

Finally, Monica Edinger has posted a well-thought out, well written defense of required reading lists from an educator's perspective. Can I say how bedazzled I am by her?

1 comment:

Monica Edinger said...


Thanks so much! I've been nattering on this way for years on child_lit and ccbcnet, but decided to start a blog to get the word out a bit more broadly. Getting mentioned by folks like you helps a lot.

I'm particularly interested in just providing another perspective, one that I think doesn't get heard much when these debates (e.g. required reading or the value of reading the classics) ensue.

Thanks again!