Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summer Reading and Karma

Years ago, when I was first given high school students as victims, I took summer reading very, very seriously. I made a comprehensive list by researching books that would help kids either on the SAT's or in September's English class, I wrote up thoughtful discussion questions, typed them out and stapled them into packets that I mailed home. I saw nothing wrong with asking 14 year olds to read five books and answer questions on them during their ten weeks off. After all, isn't that what summer was for -- reading?

Well, no. It had been for me, but I'm only now realizing exactly how weird a kid I must have been.

My summer packets rarely came back and the more experienced teachers smiled when I complained. They told me I would be lucky if some of the kids read one book. This was shocking news to me: what was wrong with the kids in that school district? Maybe something in the town's water supply was making them lazy.

But they weren't lazy; they were teenagers. (Though it could be argued that lazy/teen
are synonymous).

So fast forward. While I am diving for socks under my son's bed this morning, I find Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

"Why is this here?" I ask my 16 year old.

He yawns, shrugs, and turns away.

"This is required reading. Did you finish it?"

"Nah, it's just about this Jewish guy in Princeton who tells lies. And it's racist."

"Oh, right. That's a thorough analysis. Did you read it?"

"Ma, I told you. They let the writer talk about how he's stubborn because he's Jewish. You can't say stuff like that."

"You understand it's about the disillusionment of the time period after World War I, that..."

"How many books do I have to read for English this year?"


"Dude, that's not gonna happen." He yawns again. "Not when they assign books with racist writers."

"Don't you have to write an essay on this? And on the other one?"

"Last year so few kids read that the teacher just let us do it on a short story she gave out in class. Actually, she read the story to us."

(He's in college prep level English)

"You know what's going to happen to you if you don't read, don't you, Christopher?"

"Yup. I'm going to end up homeless. You've been telling me that since I was 9."

"What about if we read it together and talk about the chapters?"

Christopher smiles very patiently at me. "Mom, it takes way, way too long that way. You like go over every little thing. Just tell me what happens."

"No, that would ruin it."

"You know what would be cool?"

"Not Spark Notes...please, anything but Spark Notes..."

"No, no, but why don't they just make video games out of these books and take out all the slow parts? Then we would do them. And it wouldn't take so long."


Marcia said...

Entertaining post! This is by turns humorous and dismaying. It really points up how kids call the shots today. And that video games have helped feed the demand for action, action, action. I wonder how teachers are addressing kids' charge that writers like Hemingway are racist. By the standards kids are taught today, you can't blame them for the conclusion. Literature and history really have to go hand in hand. But that makes our job even tougher . . .

Anne Spollen said...

When I taught, I would try to explain to the kids how we were not always so politically correct and how without some of the "racism" or sexism, the novel would not be an honest reflection of its time.
They usually accept that, but I constantly hear how reading is sooo slow, slow, slow - and it is when you think about the instant communication of emails, IM's, texts that this generation has grown up with.
They barely believe that I used to have to wait a week or so to get my pictures back from the developer...

Mary Witzl said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry! I heard a kid say something like this a few weeks back -- that if books were more interesting, she'd read them, and why couldn't they be like video games? And the deadly boring books she was talking about were ones that had thrilled me to my inner core.

Help. I'm going to be teaching kids again very soon. I'm in for it, aren't I?

Anne Spollen said...

Getting them to read isn't easy, but my trick is to relate absolutely everything to THEM - how is this character like you or not like you, etc. That helps (but not with my biological kids)
I actually think you're in for a great time.

TerriRainer said...

Thank God I'm not the only parent with "non-readers"!

I am a PROLIFIC reader, always have kids, not even close. I even tried to get my oldest daughter to read Nora Roberts, by promising her, ahem, juicy "grown-up" scenes (she was in 6th grade). She just exclaimed "EW! I don't want to read about THAT!".

That's not even the worst of it...I found out that my daughter (who is in Advanced Placement classes) uses Amazon reviews for her book reports, instead of reading the book!


:) Terri

Anne Spollen said...

I know, Terri. When I taught English, the kids complained they didn't have "time" to read -- and I remember thinking they were probably overscheduled kids since it was a really affluent community.

But now I hear the same complaint/reason for not reading and I'm aware of all the time spent on YouTube, texting and lolling on the bed.

I offer money - shame on me, but I do. X amount per page...I follow the whatever works school of parenting.