I came across this article, written in May of 2016, today and thought it might, once again, be worth your time. In this week’s forum, we’re discussing whether it is possible for America to be united again. Unfortunately, much of the public school system is controlled by Progressives. This means the little reading kids do these days studiously ignores classic authors. Kids no longer learn about courage, self-sacrifice, the great men–and women–that made America and changed the world. Too much of the little they read is socio-political indoctrination. Even in schools like mine not progressive controlled, there is a serious problem.
And how little do they read? When I began teaching many years ago, our classes were just under an hour in length. Now, largely in deference to mandatory, high stakes testing, they’re down to 42 minutes. This is so even for age levels that no longer have to take the tests, because it’s virtually impossible to run multiple schedules in the same building. Reading works of any length and maintaining interest and intellectual continuity is difficult, at best.
And so the struggle goes on. Let’s return to May.
I regularly despair about the state of my students. With relatively few exceptions–fewer seemingly each year–they are not readers. Oh, they can read. Some of them are able to read aloud quite well. But fewer and fewer of my students show the benefits of the avid reader.
What might those benefits be? Before I explain, consider this from Stephanie Cohen at acculturated.com:
I recently spent time with a class of fourteen-year-olds, talking about words, specifically words strung together to form speech. I started out by asking them whether they thought words could make people act in a particular way. ‘Can words lead to action?’ I asked. There was some thinking and mulling over.
We spent several weeks discussing, reading, and studying many of the greatest (and infamous) words read aloud: the Gettysburg Address, Ronald Reagan’s ‘Tear Down This Wall’ speech in Germany, John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, a host of Winston Churchill speeches from World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speeches, and some of the best contemporary commencement addresses given in the US in recent years. Many of these speeches were written in reaction to events, and most of them called on their respective audiences to do something (be calm, have fortitude, ensure victory, reach for success). Whether or not the words we read actually shaped (or changed) history can be debated, but the more important question is whether words can shape conscience, which affects not just one action but a lifetime of actions. This is something teachers have long relied on the power of literature to do.