Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Huh? Wha...?

Ann Althouse is suggesting that schools stop teaching reading as a separate subject - and that "pleasure reading" should be done only at home (or in the library) because you don't really learn anything from reading fiction.

A snipet, for your enjoyment:

And why does reading even need to be a separate subject from history in school? Give them history texts and teach reading from them. Science books too. Leave the storybooks for pleasure reading outside of school. They will be easier reading, and with well-developed reading skills, kids should feel pleasure curling up with a novel at home. But even if they don't, why should any kind of a premium be placed on an interest in reading novels? It's not tied to economic success in life and needn't be inculcated any more than an interest in watching movies or listening to popular music.
...Teach them about history, science, law, logic -- something academic and substantive -- and leave the fictional material for after hours.

Now, I realize that this is in response to the history question posed at the beginning of her post, and that that history question has something to do with No Child Left Behind (though I am not at all clear on what), but, um, still.

I have to say, and this is just my opinion, that if I had been forced to learn how to be a critical reader via history and science texts, I would have been an utter failure in school, and I would have hated reading in general.

Althouse's logic leads me to believe that she hasn't seen a history textbook since she was in school - and, that she'd be shocked to learn that they haven't changed much in 30 years. I remember my history texts vividly - because they were horrible. They were male-centric and sometimes downright misogynistic, they focused on and glorified war, had little of interest in them for anyone who wanted to know what life was actually like "back in the day," and glossed over many important points. In fact, I will freely admit that what I have learned about history (and it isn't nearly enough since my history education was abysmal) I have learned as an adult by watching the History Channel, watching (gasp!) popular movies (and then researching the finer points on my own), and, yep, you guessed it READING NOVELS - both classic and contemporary. I distinctly remember learning this in HIGH SCHOOL about the Dust Bowl: it was dusty, people were poor and lived in shacks. That's it. Reading of the Grapes of Wrath, and then looking up some facts, gave me an understanding of what that experience was like and how it happened.

I have always been a reader (thank God). When I was a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. And I can say with absolute certainty that I became an adult critical reader when I took my first Shakespeare class at 14.

I am certainly not knocking the reading of non-fiction - far from it. If you'd like to know more about women's issues and women's lives in the late 50s and early 60s, read Rebels in White Gloves. If you'd like to know more about race, class, and higher education as it stands today, read A Hope in the Unseen. I will bet that the issues presented in those books get little more than a passing mention in a standard American History text.

The idea that ideas that are "academic and substantive" come only via textbooks is absurd.

1 comment:

Angela Mott said...

I wish I could come up with some kind of coherent response to the horrible things posted by human beings on Althouse's blog, but I'm still reeling from the sheer idiocy and hatefulness of those posts. As a former teacher I'm actually nauseated to see so many people denigrate teachers so badly.