Putting it in students' hands
Finished? I’ve read through the story twice and think Lorrie NcNeill’s plan is brilliant.
I always liked reading as a kid, everything from The Phantom Tollbooth to Spider-Man, but I was generally indifferent to my English classes. It’s not that I dislike Catcher in the Rye, Othello or Lord Byron’s poetry; but that stuff didn’t speak to me as a high schooler. (I realize I’m probably the exception when we’re talking about Catcher. To my sophomore mind, Holden was a whiner.)
I came to appreciate classic authors as I grew older, but I was much more enthusiastic about the projects in which I had a choice. I did occasionally enjoy a book that was foisted on me, but I felt like I owned the selections I made. I only kept two English papers I ever wrote — one on the X-Men as a source of social commentary, the other on music in Langston Hughes poetry. I selected the subjects for both. (My wife did the same thing. She still has a copy of her Flannery O’Connor research paper.)
That having been said, McNeill’s plan is not perfect and Motoko Rich’s story does a good job of laying out the problems. Kids who don’t want to read are not going to become literary wunderkinds because they peruse the Maximum Ride series. Instead, their selections should be treated as gateway drugs.
Oh, you like Tolkien? Here’s Vonnegut. You like Picoult? Here’s du Maurier.
But the kid has to be willing to grow with you. Lazy readers are going to be lazy readers whether they’re critiquing Henry James or James Patterson. That having been said, kids who enjoy reading (whether it be The Phantom Tollbooth or Moby Dick) are more likely to read as adults.
I like how McNeill has a basement. No Gossip Girl, for example. Not all reading is good reading. I would personally raise the basement a little higher, but I’m not a teacher and don’t know how difficult it is to get a seventh grade boy to read something more complex than Patterson.
An approach like McNeill’s might work best when paired with some restrictions. Yes, kids can choose two or three books that they study during the school year, but they’re still required to read two as a group.
But, in general, I think McNeill and the other teachers who are willing to try something different deserve kudos.
-Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com