Sunday, August 30, 2009

Should kids read what they want in school?

I was going to write about something else entirely today, but then a co-worker (thanks, Julia) alerted me to this article in the New York Times. This is just too important to let pass.

It seems that some teachers are now experimenting with letting their students choose what they want to read for class, instead of the entire class reading and discussing, say, To Kill A Mockingbird. While you may have dreadful memories of boring classics thrust upon you by teachers who taught the same lesson plan year after year after year, there is something to be said for having a common culture. If kids aren't exposed to these classics before they graduate, they may never read them. And if they never read Harper Lee or Mark Twain or Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck, then references we used to think were understood by all will no longer mean anything.

This hit home when I finished reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird this morning. In a chapter about capturing ideas on index cards and then starting to think like a writer, she says that thoughts or images "will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath..."

Now, if I had never read To Kill A Mockingbird I would have no idea what she's talking about there on page 136.

What do you think? Should kids get to choose what they want to read in middle school or high school, even if it's Captain Underpants or Twilight? Is it better to let students read what they want, just to get them reading? Or should they all be required to read certain books?

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