Random thoughts on a variety of subjects
By Sam Redman
Television wasn’t around in my elementary school days (and was just spreading around the country when I was in the 7th grade) so books were an exciting escape for me and my brother. The local library allowed three books at a time (whatever we wanted) and my brother and I read them so fast we begged our parents to take us back for three more every few days. I went through a pattern of learning and reading progressively more and more challenging literature. I saw similar patterns with other students at my schools. The librarians (at the public library, as well those at the school library) shared a role of helping kids find just the right books which they would find interesting. By the seventh grade, I had progressed through juvenile books like Hubert Skidmore’s, “Hill Doctor” and “Hill Lawyer” and by that time was even enjoying some Hemingway and various mystery novels. But some of the students were just then getting into the “Freddy the Pig” serial books and others the Hardy Boys series or Nancy Drew (the types of books my brother and I had passed through several years before). In the library, they kept many novels about hot rods and baseball (and similar subjects) so that kids could find their own level of comprehension and interest. There was no shame in finding something that each one would enjoy.
By the time I was in high school, I saw the pattern of political correctness starting to take hold where various books (I’m sure put on the lists with the most noble intentions) were assigned for the class, but they usually were at reading levels way over most kid’s heads. I saw many students lose interest, because they were not properly gauged for individual reading level, as well as emotional and intellectual maturity.
My opinion is that allowing children the freedom to read what interests them will take them along an automatic path toward more and more challenging materials. You naturally get tired of shallow, pap literature and want to read stories with more substance. I was reading Ian Fleming (James Bond) books long before it was cool and I remember a teacher telling me that such was just junk. Another had the same take on my ragged copy Kerouac’s “On the Road” (which I had read about thirty times), but, of course, she had never heard of him because he wasn’t regarded as a literary giant yet. And while that one is probably on official lists now, it may not be applicable to everyone. People are different and should be regarded as individuals to explore and discover and develop their own reading interests.
Over the years, as I had children of my own, I have seen the situation change regarding reading. Television changed things. Young people don’t have the stimulation or need to be swept away in the pages of a book. I noticed in their junior and eventual high school classes (especially among my son’s classmates), the assigned books had a way of turning off the desire to read. I solved that by taking my own sons repeatedly to the new form of “libraries”, the used and new book stores and letting them buy a few books of their own choosing every outing. It worked. They love to read and they progressed to their own level of interests and curiosity.
The secret to keeping anyone continuously motivated to read is freedom of choice. It is good to see that there are some teachers who are daring enough to experiment (and return to the proven ways of many years ago).