“The school says you can’t read classic books on tablet!” and “I loved The Little Princess!” her mother said.
Leith stabbed a finger at a dumb word on a page made of dead trees. Switching book for tablet, within minutes she was humming through not just the story of Sara Crewe but along links leading to innumerable pathways to knowledge. Still she envied those who could still hold a world, instead of infinity, in their hands.
The door cracked open, letting in her mother’s sigh. “They say you’re the most brilliant generation ever and you can’t even read a book.”
This story was written for the Friday Fictioneers, a group dedicated to crafting flash fiction pieces of a 100 words each with the inspiration of a photo prompt. Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (spelled correctly this time!) for running the group and to Claire Fuller for the photo prompt. You can view more stories from the Friday Fictioneers here.
Electronic devices mean we make less regular runs to the library in my family since we never run out of something to read (web sites! I-books!) and I do have mixed feelings about that, but this story is partly a reflection of my concern over the new federal learning standards. The Common Core curriculum is weighted toward the nonfictional end of the reading spectrum. My son attends a math, science and technology magnet school so they already have related nonfictional materials integrated throughout his courses, but even there the new standards are a concern as my son’s 7th grade English teacher related in her address to parents at open house this year.
One criticism I have found with Common Core is that the committees writing the standards did not include any K-3 educators nor did they consult with a single early childhood education association or expert. Another complaint is the heavy weight given to nonfiction materials. For instance, Common Core guidelines require that a 50/50 balance in younger years will climb to 70% nonfiction and 30% fiction by 12th grade. It is claimed that schools can squeeze the great high school classics into the diminishing wedge allotted to fictional reading material but with mandatory testing of student achievement of these standards beginning in 2014 and the fact that performance is tied to federal “Race to the Top” education money there will be great pressure on educators to teach to the test – as we experienced under “No Child Left Behind”. Obtaining the new materials required will also stress many school systems financially.
It’s a very complex subject and there are pluses and minuses but its hard to watch the pendulum swing from one extreme to another. When the oldest Millennials were kids Harry Potter ignited a whole new generation of readers, firing up the youth market. Now the experts find that we have suffered in the area of nonfictional or informational reading and so the (over) correction begins. Watching that love of reading shared by almost every Millennial I’ve known, including those in middle school today, I can’t help but worry that the younger generation will lose out as a result of this swing.
What good is a (fictional) book? At the second link above reader Jane Gangi commented:
“Adam Jones in Evoking Genocide: Scholars and Activists Describe the Works That Shaped Their Lives interviews 57 scholars of genocide and human rights activists. 74% of the texts that prompted them to care about genocide were literary or fine arts, and 26% were informational. In education, if we want students to care about anything worth caring about, it seems we need to do the reverse…”
I agree that nothing awakens empathy more than a well told story. Some suggested readings in Common Core are given as MLK’s Letter from a Burmingham Jail and the U.S. Constitution so it’s really not a bad idea to incorporate more informational reading in English classes but they also include technical manuals and some of the driest science. My son who is 12 years old already tests at a 12th grade reading level and particular favorites from the library this year were “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner, the hacker suspense books of Boingboing’s Cory Doctorow (“Little Brother” and “Homeland”) and he’s now laboriously making his way through Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” so I’m not worried about his love of good fiction but concerned that we might once again be regulating the joy of learning (and teaching) right out of the classroom.
How all that resulted in Leith’s story… who knows? but I just wanted to share my concerns.