Today I ran across an article about how Shakespeare is required in school whether or not kids have any interest in it all.
Then I ran across a summer reading program where they are paying kids to read. Kids read the books, write a report and send it in, then receive a check for up to 40.00 for their efforts. They can repeat this as often as they want throughout the summer. The catch, they have to read books on the list offered by the site who is doing this.
Then I ran across a post on Facebook about eating what you’re told when you’re a kid.
All of it started to connect in my mind and it bothered me. By forcing kids to read the books we think are classics (who the hell decided they were classics in the first place?), by forcing them to read from a strict list of books, even by forcing them to eat the foods they don’t like or go hungry, we are devaluing their choices.
And yes, I do think kids should have choices. I think they should have their own opinions about things and should be able to voice them. How else are we to raise children into adults who question things? Who use critical thinking? How can we tell them to not fall to peer pressure when we’re busy telling them to like everything we like or else you’ll go hungry, fail a class, or miss out on opportunities in summer reading programs? Their biggest pressure to conform usually comes from adults.
Kids are quite able to not only know what they like and want, but also able to express it if adults stop to listen.
Why are we forcing them to read things they don’t like? Why are we teaching them that reading is boring and should only be done when one has no other choice? Why are we telling them that they don’t know what they like?
I have no issue with exploring Shakespeare or the other classics. But it should be done in a way that allows them to opt out if it doesn’t appeal to them.
In my house, we have a taste rule. You think you don’t like this particular food, but you’ve never tried it so you don’t know. The requirement is that you take at least two small bites to see if you like it. If not, you don’t have to eat it. If you don’t like anything on your plate, you’re welcome to have a sandwich. This rule applies every time this particular dish is served. Take asparagus for instance. My kids didn’t like it at first. I only made them take a single, small bite of it then it was allowed to lay uneaten from there. Each time I served it, they took one bite. Until one time, my oldest decided it wasn’t as bad as he remembered and he cleaned it up. My middle did the same shortly there after. My youngest hasn’t gotten there yet. I allowed them to explore it at their own pace. If after several times they still don’t like something (my youngest hates mashed potatoes with a passion), they don’t have to try it again for a year.
Why can’t the same thing be done with books? Require a one or two week introduction into Shakespeare (or other classics) at the beginning of each year. Kids who are interested can sign up for a more in depth course, kids who aren’t can move on to something else that interests them. Offer exploratory classes, so kids can take small bites of the things they haven’t tried, or things they have tried but their tastes might have changed by now. After that, don’t force it on them.
By forcing these things on kids, we aren’t teaching the majority of kids a love of reading and writing. We are teaching them the exact opposite.
Why are they required to write book reports, or papers on what the teacher wants to hear about what the author was thinking or what the author’s mood was in a book the students can’t stand. How about instead, they are encouraged to read the books they like no matter the genre. Why not write about what in the book moved them, what made them cry, laugh, sit on the edge of their seat, stay up late to read one more chapter, what they think the writer could have done better like more character development, more description of setting, etc.
And instead of dissecting language for the sake of dissecting, how about encourage them to write what they find interesting. Let them write fan fiction, let them make new stories, let them create. Help them develop their imaginations and then guide them in their journey to convey it properly on paper.
Quit treating their likes as if they are inferior. Quit acting like if they don’t read the classics then they aren’t reading “real” literature. Real literature is any book that speaks to a person, any book that draws them into the story whether it be Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Thriller, Horror, Romance, Action, etc.
Kids know what they like. Expose them to new stuff then let them choose and then don’t denigrate their choice.
We shouldn’t be forcing these subjects on kids, we should be helping them find the love of reading, the joy books can bring, the expression that writing can offer that sometimes can’t find an outlet in spoken words.
Just as with dinner time we should be helping kids to explore it, to learn to try new things and feel comfortable saying, “I don’t like that.”
My kids discovered the the joy of reading because I encouraged them to pick books they thought they would like. And they’ve learned to try new books in new genres because just like with dinner, they’ve learned they won’t know if they like if they don’t try it. That said, if they start a book and really don’t like it, they don’t have to finish it.
And why should they? As adults we don’t read books we don’t like. We don’t eat foods we don’t like . We don’t do a lot of things we don’t like (except sometimes jobs for those who don’t like their job but like electricity) and yet we expect our kids to do it because why? They may be smaller than us, or in the case of my teenagers, younger (they’re both taller than me now) but that doesn’t mean they are any less of a person, any less of an individual, than we are.