School (Language Arts) and sucking the fun out of reading.

I’m a school librarian. I teach my students research tools and skills, how to be better searchers, and more critical consumers of information. I support instruction, I give lots of book-talks, I make sure teachers know about important books.  It is pretty much my job description, but it isn’t why I love this job.

Being a school librarian satisfies the slightly subversive or rebellious part of my nature. Every day I fight the battle.  Every day teachers are dutifully sucking the fun out of reading, and everyday I fight to put the fun back in. I encourage children to abandon books that don’t grab them.  I send them away with three to try. I, unlike their teachers, read tons of books for children.  I know not only what’s hot, but also what is really good.

Why the battle? Because we lose them as readers. Often it happens in Middle School, but definitely in High School, and I’m pretty sure I know why.

I attended the mandatory English/LA teacher training this year at my school.  It was eye-opening, almost fascinating; it was torture.  Oh! The flashbacks to everything that mystified me about English/LA instruction in school. No more novels; the focus of reading will be on short stories. Hear the short story, read the story, write down any questions, discuss, read it again find evidence in the text, discuss again. Shoot me now! Even though several decades have passed since I was a kid in the classroom, I was still the concrete block in the room.  I read it, I understood it, and I had no questions.

Ok, I may be the only professional MLA certified librarian in the world who never took an undergraduate college course in English, or literature.  I was an engineer for the first 10 years of my professional life, which is a different blog post entirely. Let’s just say that I’m really well-read, and plenty analytical, but I have never seen the point of analyzing “literature”. Come to think about it, I’m not sure I even know what makes something “literature” instead of just a novel, book, or story.

Why must children and teens analyze books (literature?) to death for eight years in school, which is really only useful and relevant if you happen to choose a literature major? Actually, they don’t.  Everything they are required to read has already been analyzed and written about to death. NOBODY reads the required books. Schmoop and about 1,000 other websites are fine for that. No critical thinking here!

Let them read new books, choose books that speak to them. They will be willing to read them deeply, thoughtfully and critically, which in my opinion should be the real goal. Maybe we won’t lose them anymore.

Sarah Abercrombie
Chair School-Age Programs and Services Committee
Head Librarian
Greenwich Country Day School
Sabercrombie@gcds.net

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4 Responses to School (Language Arts) and sucking the fun out of reading.

  1. Jill Eisele says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Let them choose!!

  2. Kathykleckner says:

    You seem to share at least some of the ideas found in The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Great book.

  3. Claire Davies says:

    For years I felt like I ought to hide the shame of being a librarian who had actively hated, HATED, english literature classes at school.

  4. Sarah Stippich says:

    Sarah, I totally agree! I loved reading as a teenager, but high school English classes almost ruined me. I hated that there seemed to be one right answer about the “meaning” of a book, and as long as you guessed right, you passed. Ugh.

    I’m so glad my mom had lots of Stephen King books at home! It saved my reading life!

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