Today’s post will be short and sweet, as I just came to the realization that school starts next week and I haven’t a clue what to do.
Today’s NY Times Education section had an interesting article about the “Reading Workshop”, something many teachers are already familiar with. In a nutshell, this concept allows students to shape their own reading lists, while teachers facilitate dicussion, instruct on elements of grammar, syntax, writing skills and the like.
It’s a slacker’s dream. No more Silas Marner, or Great Expectations, or Great Gatsby. Let’s open up comic books, trashy romance novels and children’s ditties in order to learn the wonders of the English language.
There are many variations on this, from a small selection of books to a whole-hog gutting of the classic liberal curriculum. Basically, I’m against the whole-hog approach, which is covered in the article, for two reasons. First, to understand English is to understand the exemplars by which the English language is based. Many of these authors–not all, but many–offer students valuable lessons in language structure, usage, plot development and overall good writing. Just don’t use James Joyce for sentence structure or e.e. cummings for punctuation.
Second, and the one that really counts, is that if your students are upwardly mobile, this curriculum will place them at a severe disadvantage. The kids in wealthier school districts who are heading to Ivy League schools and their equivalent are reading the boring stuff–they don’t bother with new-fangled theories on reading development. The kid who worked his/her way out of a working class or poor district may get to Harvard on their pluck and determination, but they will need the base knowledge of those boring books for at least the first year.
To get the keys to the kingdom, you need to read the books by dead white males. It sucks, but that’s life. Deal with it.
As always, comments are welcome.