Teaching books worth reading

tumblr_nhrphtX3tk1sfie3io1_1280When observing students seated in their rows and columns struggling with boredom, it’s our tendency to wonder what’s wrong with them. It’s time to wonder what’s wrong with what we’re doing to them.

“Teach the Books, Touch the Heart,” by Claire Needle Hollander, has been around for a while, but it’s well worth reading–either for the first time or once again. In this piece, Hollander writes of her experience of teaching classic works of literature to children from grades six to eight.

Despite their youth, her students could read Of Mice and Men, for example, and “understand, more than [she] ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.” Hollander believed her students could not only enjoy the classics, but understand them, and they did not disappoint her.

She also writes of the challenge she faced to prove to others that reading such books was helpful to her students. In a culture of testing, in which only those things that can be quantified are given credence, how does one measure the kinds of “success” reading books leads to?

I find her concluding paragraph particularly poignant:

We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts. By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all. We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound. We may succeed in raising test scores by relying on these methods, but we will fail to teach them that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them.

To introduce children to books that will touch their hearts is to introduce them to who they are.

 

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