by Diana Senechal
The New York Times story on the “reading workshop” method glorifies indifference toward literature. Its hero is a teacher who saw the light: who used to love to teach To Kill a Mockingbird but by the end of the story was sending her class sets of that and other books to the storage room. No more would she tell her students what to read. Not after attending that seminar led by Nancie Atwell.
And an interesting little fact: the teacher disliked the literature she read in school as a child. No wonder she gave up the teaching of it so willingly.
This so-called movement is led by people who don’t love literature enough to defend it, and who don’t care about history enough to find out that their revolution is nothing revolutionary. It glorifies a certain indifference.
The movement writes off the literature itself. It writes off the teachers who teach it well and inspire their students to love it. It writes off the possibility that literature will affect students’ entire lives and stay in their minds, in ways that teen novels cannot do. Proponents say, “Look, the kids are reading; this is working!” They do not stop to think that reading 20 pages a day is not the same as grappling with literature. The chicken coop is not a palace. (Oops–no one teaches Dostoevsky anymore.)
I taught Sophocles’ Antigone (among many other works of literature) to my eighth grade ESL students. We had heated debates in class. Students wrote thoughtful essays. I thought, “How much more they will understand when they read it in high school!” Then I realized they probably wouldn’t read it in high school. They would probably never have it assigned to them again.
A former Core Knowledge teacher in New York City, Diana Senechal is currently writing a book in New Haven, Connecticut.