Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 21: Agree to Disagree

My son is at the age where he he spends a lot of time hanging out with his friends.  When he does this, sometimes, he is exposed to things of which my wife and I don’t approve.  Should I ban him from seeing those friends?  Should I lecture him on the horrors of listening to and watching certain things?  Sure, I could keep him locked in a room with no windows until he turns 21.  Then what?  Let him out into a crazy and cruel world for which he is unprepared?  No thank you.  That will not go over well.  If I think back to my teenage years, I did a lot of stuff and was exposed to plenty of things of which my parents would not have approved.  It made me who I am.  I didn’t break many laws and didn’t do anything that could cause serious damage to my reputation, health, or body.  I was a teenager, not stupid.  So, I know that my son has watched rated-R movies with his friends, as he tells us.  When he shares this information with my wife and I, we don’t immediately say, “Oh my God, what were you thinking?”  We start by moving the conversation forward.  Then, we carefully and delicately remind him how we feel about him watching R-rated movies.  We don’t spend a lot of time hitting home this part of the conversation so that he stops sharing stuff with us.  We want to keep the lines of conversation open.  

However, when our son is with us and wants to do something of which we don’t approve, we tell him no and briefly explain our rationale.  This past weekend, he wanted to see a rated-R horror movie with his friends.  I said, “No.”  While he debated me for a few minutes, that was it.  He knows our expectations and understands that my wife and I will not break under pressure.  So, he stopped asking.  While I said very little to him, many thoughts filled my head.

Why would he want to see a horror movie?  He hates scary movies.  The one time we watched a scary movie together, he couldn’t sleep for days.  I know he had planned on meeting a girl there.  So, there’s the motivation.  But still, it’s a scary movie.  I’ve seen the previews.  It looks terrifying.  I love scary movies, and I’m avoiding this new one.  I kept these thoughts to myself though.

Later that same night, I asked my son what his friends had said about the movie.  “She said it was very scary and won’t be able to sleep tonight.  If I saw it, I don’t think I’d be able to sleep for a week.”  While the “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” in me wanted to say, “Told you so,” I said, “Oh.”  This kept the conversation going.  He talked about other scary movies he had seen and how they terrified him.

And the Parent-Of-The-Year Award goes to…  I don’t want to brag, but.  What am I talking about?  I love to sing my own praises as I rarely experience them.  I’m usually getting tongue-tied or a case of word-vomit when I try to talk to my son.  I finally got something right.  Yah for me!

So, like I agreed to disagree with my son about seeing rated-R movies, I felt compelled to disagree with one of the big ideas Kelly Gallagher propses in his book Readicide.  He states that much good can come from having a class read the same novel at the same time.  Why?  He claims that shared cultural knowledge is gained.  Can’t the same be true if students read books on their own?  Yes, difficult texts need to be supported with teaching and guidance.  However, does this teaching need to happen altogether as a class?  What about those advanced readers who comprehend things quickly?  Won’t they grow bored while I’m explaining the themes of the novel to my struggling readers?  What about using Literature Circles or reading groups?  What about giving students a few choices when it comes to reading “The Classics?”  That way, there may be more buy-in from the students, which leads to engagement.  We can also “teach” the novels in more relevant and meaningful ways for the students.  So, yes, I am agreeing to disagree with Gallagher on this point.  I don’t feel smarter or more in-tune with society because I read Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird in school together with my classmates.  I actually can’t stand Shakespeare to this day because the teaching of his novels was beat into me in school.  So, no, I don’t think students are better off if we teach “great” novels in class at the same time.  Again, I think it does just the opposite that the author is suggesting.  It leads to the death of reading, which is what he suggests we need to prevent.  Confusing, I know.  

If we help support and develop life-long readers through the freedom and choice that the workshop model of literacy instruction creates, then those readers will eventually read those “classics.”  Why push and prod?  If I had told my son everything I was thinking when he asked about seeing a rated-R movie, he would have grown angry with me and the discussion we had would have turned into a heated debate.  This would have lead to him not trusting me as his father, which would mean that he would no longer tell me things happening to him.  If we want to lose readers to poor reading instruction that creates a stranglehold on the students, then let’s keep teaching the same book to all students at the same pace.  Or not.  I want my students to see reading as wonderful and enlightening, not awful and horrible.  So, Mr. Gallagher, thanks for your insight on this point, but I’m going to ignore your advice.  Not all of it, because most of your book is a masterpiece, but this one mandate you suggest schools need to adopt is not inline with my beliefs as an educator.


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