Today there was an article on NPR that said not only do kids choose easy books to read for pleasure, the reading that high schools assign is getting increasingly easier.
This is the opposite of my kid’s experience.
This year, at the public high school, my 9th grade daughter read THE KITE RUNNER, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, THE GREAT GATSBY, MOBY DICK, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and THE HOBBIT. The English teacher gave them a 4 page list of books they could choose from (photos below), and had a “book club” (consisting of smaller groups of like-minded classmates) where the kids had to read 400 pages per quarter and meet occasionally in class to discuss it and answer questions (how they were graded).
Honestly, I doubt she would have chosen any of these on her own (except the HOBBIT) but she enjoyed them. I just asked if she read something different for fun and she said, “Are you saying these weren’t fun?”
I think the BOOK CLUB aspect of reading the novels, rather than the teacher making everyone read the same thing all the time and analyzing it to death, helped out. The teacher allowed the groups to bring in cookies or other treats during book club, to make it something to look forward to. My daughter then had the pleasure of making cookies to take to her class, too.
The rigor improved her reading/critical thinking skills. In addition, the teacher taught the class as a whole works like ROMEO AND JULIET.
This is the opposite of my high school experience in the 90s. In high school, the same one my kid attends now, though I was in advanced (gifted) classes, we never had to read anything. My 10th grade Advanced English textbook was, I kid you not, the SAME BOOK I USED IN 6th GRADE (because I read at a high school grade level back then, so that’s what the teacher obtained). I’m sure you can imagine how soul-killing it was to be forced to use the same book at 16 that you used when you were 12.
Looking back, I think my writing would have progressed much faster if I’d been assigned some more complex works. There’s nothing wrong with reading books just for pleasure, but look at it this way: if you want to be an abstract artist, you still must study the classic forms of drawing/painting/sculpture, so you have that foundation to draw from. I think reading time-tested classics is a foundation that’s necessary if you’re college-bound.
So in fact, I am pleased with how the English classes have progressed at my old high school.
The print’s a little small in these photos, and my scanner isn’t working (more correctly: I’m not taking 2 hours to figure it out) so I’ll just list a few here. I think it’s got a good mix.
Age of Innocence-Wharton
As I Lay Dying-Faulkner
The Book Thief- Zusak
Brave New World-Huxley
The Catcher in the Rye
Cimarron- Ferber, Edna
Farewell to Manzanar-Houston, Jeanne and James
A Good Man is Hard to Find- O’Connor
Middlemarch- Eliot, George
My Antonia-Willa Cather
Origin of Species-Darwin
Power and the Glory- Greene, Graham
Their Eyes Were Watching God- Hurston, Zora Neale
War and Peace
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance