September 9th, 2009

Should kids get to pick what they like to read?

The New York Times says, “For years Lorrie McNeill loved teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage. But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign “Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb.” Some picked Toni Morrison. Others picked James Patterson.

Some commenters got their knicked in a knot. One said, “If we aren't going to consider the quality of what is being read, than a love of reading is no more or less beneficial than a love of television-watching, slot-car-racing, or pizza-eating.” Another wrote, “If students are given a choice regarding literature, next it will be math and science and history.” A third said, “But I'm also greatly concerned about their collective cultural IQ. Fewer and fewer of them are exposed to Homer, Milton, Dante and the like.”

I read The Iliad as a senior (about all I remember is "and darkness covered his eyes"), and I have read only a few lines of Milton and nothing of Dante. But I’m not sure it affects my life in any way. Most of the time I feel overeducated anyway. I think America’s collective cultural IQ already lacks Homer, Milton and Dante. Unless it's Homer Simpson.

I guess for me it’s more important that kids LIKE to read than WHAT they read. Even if there’s some Captain Underpants and James Patterson thrown in there. Because I hope it means they grow up to be readers as adults. And somehow a love for reading is better than a love of pizza. (Although you can love both).

Read the article that started the kerfluffle here. What do you think?

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The Elves have been busy in the Northwest

My latest young adult book, Torched, is about a girl who goes undercover in a group like Earth Liberation Front. ELF folks are called Elves, for obvious reasons. My people are called Mother Earth Defenders, or MEDics. (I spent a lot of time trying to think of something that worked for both).

About 18 months ago, Elves burned down part of Seattle’s Street of Dreams.

Now they are saying they tore down two radio station towers in Snohomish County, WA. The towers, owned by station KRKO, have been a source of controversy for years. You can read more about it in a communique here. [Full disclosure: a communique! That word sounds so cool, in a retro way.]

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