So you wanna be a great hypocrite reading teacher? According to the NYT, you can follow the example of literacy experts who suggest that we a) offer kids more choices about what they read, and b) dictate what these choices will be. Does anyone else see a problem with this technique?
Nancy Atwell, a long time expert in our field, suggests the following:
Despite the student freedom, Ms. Atwell constantly fed suggestions to the children. She was strict about not letting them read what she considered junk: no “Gossip Girl” or novels based on video games. But she acknowledged that certain children needed to be nudged into books by allowing them to read popular titles like the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer.
Ahem. This is not freedom. In fact, it sounds more like an insidious form of control. It’s worse than the teacher who just tells you to read “those” books outside of school. This teacher encourages you to choose, then suggests that you could “make better choices.” It’s perfectly Foucauldian; it ensures that each individual child learns to regulate their own choices (choices that were once safely outside of the school domain) through a series of “freeing” exercises. Better yet, we can still measure success the same way, by watching to see if they are choosing “quality literature.”Another expert (one I generally respect on issues of adolescent reading), Elizabeth Moje, chimed in with a similar tune, adding that that teachers should guide students toward high-quality literature and that choices should be limited. Limited how? By the rules of which cannon?
At least Catherine Snow, and long time heavy hitter in the field of reading weighs in with some good sense:
“If what we’re trying to get to is, everybody has read ‘Ethan Frome’ and Henry James and Shakespeare, then the challenge for the teacher is how do you make that stuff accessible and interesting enough that kids will stick with it. But if the goal is, how do you make kids lifelong readers, then it seems to me that there’s a lot to be said for the choice approach. As adults, as good readers, we don’t all read the same thing, and we revel in our idiosyncrasies as adult readers, so kids should have some of the same freedom.”
But it also sounds like she takes the idea of choice more seriously. I don’t imagine her secret frustration at the group of boys who choose not to read the “more challenging fare.” So what, if anything, can an article entitled “The Future of Reading” tell us? For me, it’s a lot of the same old thing. Only now, instead of only watching kids read what we tell them to read, we are also watching to ensure that they make “good choices” at all times. Why can’t anybody stand up to this bullshit? Why can’t choice mean choice?