Not a Balanced Diet

Time flies.

According to a commentary in Education Week, April will mark the 25th anniversary of the A Nation at Risk report and the writer says that little has changed in the interim.

As evidence, he points to a report from the National Endowment for the Arts “chronicling the precipitous decline in reading in the United States”.

He then goes down a path of nostalgia about all the classic fiction read during his childhood.

At my school, in good weather (and sometimes in foul), book-loving students still settle onto windowsills, curl up on porches, or sit with their backs to a tree during daily Quiet Reading time. They don’t take their eyes from the pages–lost they are, words swirling like a gale around them. Perhaps the book has taken them beneath the sea or high on a mountain. Maybe they’re battling a monster or running with animals on the veldt. When they confront “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself,” as Faulkner put it, they will be learning what it means to be human.

However, at that point he wanders off into strange territory by declaring: “That’s what education is all about. Were it the norm, we would no longer be at risk.”

I have no argument with the idea that reading is an important skills for anyone to develop. But is a diet heavy on the classic literature really a prescription for improving K12 education?

As I recall, A Nation at Risk highlighted many more problems than just the inability (or unwillingness) to read Faulkner, Twain, and Homer.

reading, education, nation at risk

6 Comments Not a Balanced Diet

  1. Stephen Downes

    The Education Week article is available to paying subscribers only.

    If you are going to post a link to such locked-down material (really, I would prefer that you didn’t) then could you at least include a warning so people don’t waste their time following a link that takes them to nothing more than a subscription barrier?

  2. Betty

    I’m not sure things have changed that much over the years. Even when reading the classics as a kid, I felt pretty much at risk with the threats from Russia. I also think that a lot of new literature is just as good as some of the classics. Even those books were new at one time.

  3. MaryJo Wagner

    It’s not whether we’re reading the classics or not. Not whether reading the classics is even important. It’s about the general and sad denigration of reading anything. Kids don’t read because their parents aren’t reading. There’s no motivation. Even the internet, originally a text-based media, now emphasizes webcasts, streaming video, and other non-reading technologies. Why read a newspaper when you can get it on TV and on live video on your laptop.

  4. Tim

    Stephen, what can I say? At the time I wrote the post, the link led to a page that was not behind the pay-per-view wall. I don’t subscribe to Education Week so it also frustrates me when someone points to a page I can’t read.

  5. Tim

    Mary Jo, you’re right about many people, not just kids, not reading anything, not just novels.

    I would blame part of that on the fact that we don’t teach a balance in the consumption of media in schools. We need to acknowledge the existence of information coming through non-text channels and help students understand when and how to use each channel.

  6. John Hendron

    What we really ought to do is send the leaders of our state, and of our nation (I’m speaking of those with influence to make change), to the schools of Finland, Japan, Singapore, et al., and see if they’re reading books in the nooks of trees.

    Some would be shocked; I think in some cases, by the mere behavior of students in these locales.

    That aside, I think I agree with Tim with the comment about a variety of media, but also a variety of content within each medium.

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