Tuesday, October 18, 2005

In those books the chidren always hate themselves

Barbara Feinberg's Welcome to the Lizard Motel is memoir rightly questioning how our children are being made to read and think. Wondering why the books her children are assigned make them so uncomfortable, she starts to read them. She becomes increasingly alarmed at these "problem novels" that seem to serve no purpose but to make the children feel bad.
"You see," the teacher had gone on to explain, "a good book should make you cry."

These words came back to me as I watched my children now. They were sitting so stiffly, their spines arched. Their posture was the opposite of how they sat when they were absorbed. Why, exacly, did school want them to cry?

As taught in the classroom, they also force agreement with what ever message the book is bludgeoning the read with.
We can't ever say we don't like the books," Alex has said.
"But what if you explain why you don't like them, and critique the book?" I asked.
His teacher, he said, "thinks if you're not liking the books, you're not reading them closely enough."

But her biggest complaint and fear, is that these books, as they're taught, are forcing an adult reality upon children. They seem to identify imagination creativity as something to grow out of, or at least something so micromanaged as to lose touch with what those words actually mean.
While the books are often told in the voice of a child narrator, or narrator identified with a child, and, in some, the child's language might sound more or less believable, many of he books rarely deliver what I consider anauthentic child's perspective. Something feels false. Something essential is missing.

What is it? The answer is this: No child I have known experiences "reality only in terms of waht happens -- "the facts."
And it is precisely this dimension to childhood experiences that is absent from many realistic novels and virtually all problem novels. No magic, manifest or latent, vibrates within them. Instead, in all of these self-proclaimed realistic stories, "reality" is understood as the opposite of imagination and fantasy, as if childhood were a dream from which children must be awakened--when, in fact, reality is not divisible from imagining, for children. But in these books children's imagination is regarded as something that must be tamed, monitoed, barred.

In particular she goes off on Lucy Calkins, the head of the Writing Project.
Elsewhere, in a section devoted to teaching parents how best to guide children toward polite behavor, Calkins reveals that she admonishes her sons when they offer a non sequitur in conversation. "the conversation will be on one thing, and they interject with a remark from left field. Invariably, we adults tend to think, Now where did that come from? but essentially overlook the detour. I don't think this is wise. She goes on to suggest that adults confront the child with this detour, and advise him instead to stick to the topic at hand. (Doesn't so much poetry come from the sudden swerve of non sequiturs?) This advice strikes me as an indication that profound, if mannerly, thought-control might be at work. And if this is operative, it needs to be asked: How free are children in this Calkins universe to express what they might truly feel? Is there a spoken, or unspoken, agenda about what kind of material is acceptable and what is not? Doesn;t so much of feeling, poetic and otherwise, come from left field? The invitation to poetic reflection is genuinely meaningful only when any and all demons, too, are welcome to leap on the page.


Blogger Ahistoricality said...

Home schooling looks better the older the little anachronism gets....

10/19/2005 04:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice idea, but I'm afraid I'd turn a sweet little girl into a bitter old man. And that's my gig.


10/19/2005 07:20:00 AM  

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