Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games for second graders

Last week, all my second and third graders were asking me for The Hunger Games, which I don't have in my elementary school library. So I read them Hansel and Gretel. At first, I wondered why it popped into my head, but it makes weird sense: kids fighting for their survival in the woods, violent deaths, same initial letters.

And then this weekend I started reading The Uses of Enchantment, by Bruno Bettelheim. I know Maurice Sendak has called him "Beno Brutalheim" and I know that there are many more recent feminist discussions of fairy tales that I probably should read, but I wanted to start by seeing what Bruno had to say for himself, and I came across this passage, just a few pages into the book:
The acquisition of skills, including the ability to read, becomes devalued when what one has learned to read adds nothing of importance to one's life. We all tend to assess the future merits of an activity on the basis of what it offers now. But this is especially true of the child, who, much more than the adult, lives in the present, and, although he has anxieties about his future, has only the vaguest notions of what it may require or be like. The idea that learning to read may enable one later to enrich one's life is experienced as an empty promise when the stories the child listens to, or is reading at the moment, are vacuous.
That perfectly expresses my criticism of so many reading curricula, including the one used at my school.

I think this is going to be an important book in my professional life.

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