I’ve been working my way through Kelly Gallagher’s cannon and this is my latest read, Readicide: How Schools are Killing reading and What You Can do about It. It’s a great analysis of the reasons why reading scores have fallen even though a lot of legislation has gone into trying to make the U.S. more competitive on the global education scale. In fact, much of Gallagher’s reasons harmonizes with two books I’ve already read and reviewed, so it wasn’t too much of a shock the reasons he gave for our dismal performance when compared with Asia and Europe.
What Gallagher focuses on is the lack of authenticity in our school systems and the tools that we continually use that are supposed to “help” those students who don’t achieve inauthentic goals. Instead of letting students read self-selected texts we have them complete worksheets, inundate their books with sticky notes that distract the reader from the flow of reading. Ultimately we are keeping students from reading and when they don’t perform as readers we take them further away from reading by giving them shorter works to read and more worksheets. When you think about that, there’s no wonder that why we fall further and further behind other countries. It’s like having students watch movies and read books about running, but only give them a chance to run on the day of the test.
What I appreciate about Gallagher is that he takes the conversation into the high school classroom. The two other books that I’ve read were based in the middle school realm. While there’s a lot that can be adapted from middle school, it’s nice to have a voice that represents my everyday situation. Gallagher believes, like I do, that there’s something valuable in having the whole class read a novel. He and I both agree that there is something to be said for cultural literacy meaning that I think it’s important that we as a culture can discuss works such as Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby no matter what high school you went to. But I think too many times we’ve beaten students over the head with these great novels and by the time students leave high school they never want anything to do with literature again.
So while I’m sobered by the fact that as a nation we haven’t figured out how to actually educate students to love, I’m encouraged that there are some educators that are doing what they can to make a difference in students’ lives. As English teachers, specifically, it’s our responsibility to foster a love of reading and to be there to guide students through the “classics” rather than to beat them over the head with them.