Read, Dammit!

Everybody believes that teens should be reading. The kids have other ideas.

 

Mlsna: It takes tons of time. We sit in our little groups in our English-department meetings. Someone will say, "Oh, I finished X number of books this semester." And I say, "I got, like, one book done." But [I know] they understood it. We're not pumping it out. Kids need to know that everything they are reading is valid. All the canon, all the hip-hop lyrics, it doesn't matter. It is all valid. And they have to be able to have a process to make it as natural and as supportive as their own spine.

And that is what is missing--from what I am seeing--in education. That they're picking it up on so many levels and they are not incorporating it as a philosophy of their own life. It is too artificial. It might as well be a blue-screen back drop. Because it just ain't part of their lives.

 

Skott-Myhre: I did a set of interviews with skinheads and punks in the last couple of years. Interestingly enough, they were some of the most literate people I have ever run across. Now why is that, but other disenfranchised kids are not? I think that with the skinheads and punks, they have an impetus, they are searching for something to support their position, because it sure as hell ain't out there in the general culture.

To the degree that you can get youth to have an impetus, some sort of a drive, that isn't available to them in the general culture, they are going to find literature useful to them. To the degree that they find everything they need in the general culture, then what the hell do they need to take time and read a book for?

 

Bellaimey: It seems to me that the best teachers are the ones who are a little bit off. You have one teacher who gives their kids Romeo and Juliet and says, [monotone] "This is Romeo and Juliet and it was written by William Shakespeare and blankety blankety blank." Then you have another teacher who sits the kids down in their class and puts in a tape of West Side Story and they go all the way until they get to the fight scene, and then he stands up and stops it, and all the kids go, "What's going on?" Then he hands out the book Romeo and Juliet and says, "Now this is a script to the movie you just saw. The movie is a little bit updated, but if you read it, you'll get to find out what happened." It is teachers like that who find the...

 

Harris: Did this happen?

Bellaimey: I don't think so [laughter]. But what I'm saying is, when you mix all the different levels--not just the reading, but everything else--that's when kids are going to latch on and be more interested.

 

CP: We should probably try to wrap this thing up. Anybody need to say anything they'll be sorry they didn't say when they walk out?

Wynne: I just want to close with the comment that I think it is one thing to be able to read and to choose not to read. I think it is another not to be able to read and you want to read.

CP: How many of those people are out there? How many do you run into?

 

Baum: There are a lot of them. They struggle. They really want to read and, man, it is just not easy for them. And not all of them are ESL kids. They might be really polite kids who have just been promoted and promoted and they don't make trouble, but they still sure can't read.

Wynne: It has been my experience that some of this love of reading that we have been talking about will not come with those kids and those adults. It will not come, and they will never reach those challenges.

Harris: I think about my dad. You know we were talking earlier and someone talked about kids dealing with full-time jobs. I have got a guy who is working two jobs and then trying to go to school. But it's like, if you jump back to my dad's time, he was working two or three jobs and trying to take care of his kids, pay the bills, and all that stuff. If I said, "I just read this book. You should read this." He'd look at me like I was crazy. "What do you mean a book? I've got work to do. I don't have the luxury of reading a book." The kids we work with, the ball got dropped somewhere. They don't have that model, that, "Wait a minute, my dad worked four jobs to get me to do this and do that." And I am just sitting here thinking that my dad and mom had five boys and we all read. To a greater and lesser degree, we were all engaged and in some way creative. But we were afforded that luxury.

Baum: Somebody made it apparent to you that it was a luxury. Your parents worked so that you could have that luxury. The kids that I have worked with, it is not part of their world; if they are going to do something for leisure, a book doesn't even enter into it.

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