1. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Question for the board...?

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by bluebell80, Sep 1, 2009.

    I was watching the news this morning and this question was presented and argued by two school "official" type people.

    Should middle and high school students continue to be forced to read "the classics" or should they be allowed to read more modern works of their choosing?


    I think the "classics" should be held off until either the last year of high school or even until college level. However, I don't think students should have full freedom in choice. I think teachers should read books over the summer, modern books, popular books, and then make up a list of reading for the school year.

    There are plenty of more modern books that have abundant value and should be explored. They are books that the kids can relate to, can understand, and are more likely to actually read, rather than cheat their way through tests.

    While Shakespeare and Dickens have their place in literature, why just because they were written long ago do they automatically have more value than modern books?

    For me the "classics" are great to read at bed time because a few pages and you're out like a light. They're boring. Plain and simple. The language is not how we speak anymore and often take many readings of a single sentence to even understand it. Modern work has value. On the other hand there is plenty of modern work that doesn't have much value when it comes to language and writing style. Which is why I think it should be structured by the teachers not by the students free choice.

    What are you thoughts on this?
     
  2. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess cuz after centuries people are still moved by them? I dunno about Dickens, but ol' Bill still moves some people. Not me, but I know a lot of people who'll put you on their **** list immediately if they ever hear you trash-talking the Bard.

    Yeah, definitely can't give students free choice, yet. If down the line we get so desperate to get kids interested in reading we may have to resort to letting them pick that wizard school & vampire stuff down the road. For now they're still doing that in their free time, though.
     
  3. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    That is for you, but I enjoy the classics. I love Shakespeare, and if it weren't for reading it in high school, I may never have opened up a book. Just because something is old, and doesnt sound like the way you talk, does not mean it doesnt have value. The stories of Shakespeare and other's like him have been retold over and over so many times by others, that alot of the modern work you may be enjoying is just a spin off from it. I think kids should be encouraged to read on thier own the works they enjoy on thier own free time. Teachers could add in some newer works, but I dont think they should eliminate all the older ones simply because some find them boring. If we taught kids only the things they like, then the world would be a strange place. haha
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Another point in exposing students to the classics is to show them how writing reflects the priorities of the time, and how writing itself has evolved.

    Even here, among people who are presumably more educated than the average about writing and literature, we see members arguing good (modern) writing practices, using as examples works written a century or more ago. They fail to see literature as an evolving entity.

    And as I said, literature reveals a lot about the values and priorities of the time of their creation. Seeing and understanding these changing points of view can help us be more receptive to diverse viewpoints in todays world as well.
     
  5. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I'm not knocking the classics, but should they be forced on kids before they are ready to understand them? I understood more when I got into college, but during high school, Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet were my favorites, and still are. I do like Shakespeare, but I also was an advanced reader. For the most part though, the works are boring to read.

    I'm not for letting kids choose their own books, and having 8th graders reading Captain Underpants as their homework, but I'm for teachers introducing more exciting modern works over some of the classics. Tale of Two Cities...one of the most boring books I've ever had to read, but it's right up there with Great Expectations too. On the other hand, I love Poe, and enjoy Jane Austin (to some extent) and others like that.

    But do they have relevance to getting middle school and high school kids to read and learn how to critically review works of literature?

    Is it because modern work really doesn't have the hidden agenda like some of the more politically motivated works of Dickens and the like had? Are modern authors just not hiding their propaganda deep enough in their work to be viewed as something valuable to tear apart and figure out what it means? Or is it easier to tear "classics" apart with theories of what they mean because the authors are now dead and can't tell us exactly what they mean?
     
  6. The Freshmaker
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    The Freshmaker <insert obscure pop culture reference> Contributor

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    I think it's a good idea to have a balance. My tenth grade English teacher did pretty well, I thought. We read Macbeth, but we also read The Alchemist and some other more contemporary works. Additionally, we had monthly book reports that we could do on a book of our choosing (I challenged myself and did The Mists of Avalon, with each of its four parts as a separate report).

    I think it's important to teach the classics, because they are the roots of modern literature. But, no, I don't think they should be taught exclusively.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Obviously not. But the fact that educators are successful in exposing students to these works proves that the students ARE ready.

    Students should be challenged. Only eggs should be coddled.

    Many of the lessons learned by reading the classics are just as important (or even more so) for the students who never enter college, or even leave high school early, as the are for the college bound.
     
  8. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    In Ontario, we have a fair balance of both. I took Women's Lit and the regular grade twelve English. Naturally, we had the usual Shakespeare in each class. The required books were by Maragret Atwood and Albert Camus. The books I could choose for my term projects included A Fairwell to Arms, but there were also lots of pretty recent books. The Mists of Avalon was one of them. I don't remember if there was anything older than Hemmingway on the list.

    In grade ten, we were allowed to read whatever books we wanted for our English presentations as long as they were three different genres.
    Modern books have just as much of all that stuff as Dickens. It really is more likely that it's easier to tear into the books by authors you can't e-mail. Heck, on Jane Yolen's FAQ pages, she has "Will you do my homework for me?" as kind of a joke because kids are always asking her the kind questions about her books that they are supposed to answer for themselves.
     
  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In high school, we had a pretty good balance. We read a lot of plays, both classic and contemporary. Same goes for novels. The only thing we didn't read much of was poetry. But there should definitely be a balance between classic and contemporary (my definition of contemporary is anything post WWII). If given the choice, I would say 2/3 of the books we read should be classics while the remaining third should be contemporary. I'm not sure how other schools do it, but my high school's reading list for all four years was chosen by the district. Teachers had very little say in the matter. My only criticism for the reading list was the lack of authors from overseas. Most of the novels we read were by American authors with one or two being from Canada or England.

    Language is constant evolving, so the fact that we don't speak that way any more is not a fair criticism. And boring is subjective, so I would say it's not really the teacher's fault for choosing Dickens. I'm sure you find some classics enjoyable.
     
  10. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Besides, with the right teacher, almost anyone can find something to enjoy about Shakespeare. I know one teacher who helped get grade nine kids to have fun with it, and help them understand it, by finding all the swearing and sexual references.
     
  11. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    Students are also 'forced' to study mathematics and sciences, arent they? Why would they get to break the rules just because it's a literature or language course?

    Of course the subject should be interesting, but the classics can be interesting. It requires effort on both the student's and instructor's parts sometimes, but I find them quite interesting, worth reading and analyzing. I took a strictly literature course last year --we didnt take tests; we just read the classics, discussed the classics, and wrote essays about the classics. There were a great many I avidly disliked (Faulker and Crane, for example), but learning to read and write in a different way expanded my horizons in ways I didnt think literature could do. Not only that, but Cogito is right; it's not always just about the story, but reading classics helps you first understand the priorities and mind of the times. For example, I cant stand Tolkien. I think he's dulldulldull, and I cant stand how he has to spend four pages on the look of fir tree. But when you deconstruct that and analyze his reasoning, you might remember that his readers couldnt just go to the Internet and look up what a fir tree looks like.

    In addition, it's a vocabulary building course; a lot of those books are filled to the brim with archaic diction. If my English teacher let me read Gossip Girl series to get the same credit, I'd be sorely upset. There are plenty of gems in today's modern literature, dont get me wrong, but these 'old' books are classics for a reason. It's not supposed to be light reading; it should be difficult for you to get through at times. That's the point. Literature is a 'soft' subject, but if you ask me, you learn a lot of crap you dont 'need' to know in physics and calculus too. Shall we give students the option of reviewing arithmetics and algebra because that's more practical?
    No. Calculus is a tool --not everyone needs it, but it can benefit everyone. Biology isnt necessary to living a successful life, but where would you be without it? Literature is no different.

    The fact that this is even a major issue at all being discussed seriously on the news only shows that the whatever school district was being featured is on the brink of failing its students.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's what I like about the Ontario high school requirements. You don't need physics or calculus, just some kind of math. We even have a practical "every day" math course that has practical stuff on things like banking and buying a car or house. Instead of really teaching new math skills, it's teaching different, practical ways of using those skills that most people do use.
     
  13. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    It's interesting to see the responses here. The people arguing this case on the news I was watching this morning had two completely opposing views. Although, I do think us being writers here we tend to be a tad biased when it comes to experiencing the whole spectrum of work that is out there, but it's interesting to hear about your high school experiences. I didn't have those, since I was home schooled, and the curriculum called for only classics, but that was also my hubby's experience in his school here in VT.

    I've read plenty of books considered classics on my own and in college. I do have to say my favorites are still Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer's Night Dream. (I can read them in one continuous sitting...usually when sick.) I don't like Dickens, not in the least. Did like A Farewell to Arms. I do have to say I like the classic horrors though, Dracula being one of the big ones, and the short stories Camilla and Yellow Wallpaper. I haven't read anything by Lovecraft yet, though that is on my list of things to read. I enjoyed Virgina Woolf's writing, and have most of them on my computer, I've read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse many times.

    I agree that it is more than just reading the works at play. It is a vocabulary adventure when reading this books, because they are using words we don't use anymore and most of us don't know in our high school years. But, I agree books like Mists of Avalon are good more modern reads...though it probably would appeal more to the female's and not the males in the classroom.

    I didn't agree with the woman on TV arguing that it should be ok for 8th graders to read things like Captain Underpants as reading assignments just because it "gets them reading." That's bullpoop. My son (just started 4th grade) is reading them and he finds them rather childish...lol Judy Bloom books aren't really what I would consider appropriate reading either for beyond 4th or 5th grade.

    I don't think I would consider something like Twilight something that is on the same level as say Romeo and Juliet. But, like this woman on TV thinks that just because it gets kids attention and they enjoy it, then it should be part of the schools teaching tools. I think that is wrong.

    So I guess I'm kind of in between. Boring classics like Moby Dick (which I hated) and Great Expectations turned me off from the forced "you have to read this and understand it and write a report on it" mentality. But there are plenty of good classics that are not boring and are very enjoyable and should be used in the class room, but then there are modern works that are also just as valuable to read too.

    It also really depends on the school districts too. And let's not forget the damage No Child Left Behind has done to our systems. Maybe the move towards abandoning the classics is part of that, part of the overall dumbing down that has happened over the past 20 years, at least in America. I don't think people like my neighbors have ever even picked up a classic novel, since they went through the "dummy" classes in high school where they didn't read anything. And unfortunately it shows in them, big words confuse them.
     
  14. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Usually schools in Scotland, or maybe just Gaelic-medium education (there's a thought - why do we even read Shakespeare?), make people read the classics so they can analyse them. Well, I'm just saying that there are better ways to teach someone how to do that, that are both more entertaining and more practical. It kind of makes the classics redundant unless you're talking about from a historical perspective, in which case, they really don't belong in Gaelic-medium schools.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hear, hear.

    I have not always been a proponent of the retention of “the classics” in school, as I was one of the student desperate to write my essays on literature that actually interested me. I would sell my own body parts to not ever have to read Steinbeck again, but Dave has a very valid point here. Liturature is art, and the function of art is to comment on culture. Liturature from times passed gives us a window into the values of the generations that came before us in a manner that is not just stale, dry facts, but emotive, and expressive windows into how the author felt about the world around him/herself. I might personally detest Steinbeck, but to ignore what he had to tell us about life in depression era America is folly.
     
  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    bluebell, who was in charge of setting up the curriculum while you were home schooled? Many of friends from different schools read both classic and contemporary texts. If the district was in charge of your curriculum, then I'm guessing the entire school district was reading same classics you were.

    Also, just because one person doesn't like a particular classic author doesn't mean he shouldn't be taught in school. I'm sure there are many people who like Dickens but find Woolf boring. Ultimately, you can't please everyone. But I do agree that students shouldn't be reading books just for the sake of reading. Books used in classrooms should try to promote learning and good discussion. Otherwise, it's really no different than reading a magazine for pleasure.
     
  17. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I think it'd be fascinating to let students find their own examples of a spellbinding book and one they thought was just deadly dull and to report (in some depth) upon both (maybe even compare and contrast them). I suppose anything assigned by a teacher is likely to be viewed as torturous. So, why not do enough of a project to illustrate why that could be so, using anything available in the school library to illustrate how it happens that some students find one thing more brilliant or meaningful or enjoyable than another, while others are entirely the opposite. I can't tell you how many writers I know who were impressed as young students with various classical authors I still don't fully appreciate, while I was influenced enormously (and probably still am) by fairy tales and Alice's Adventures (which many folks find completely absurd, if not dangerously so). I think a lot of it has to do with the enthusiasm (or lack of) on the part of whoever's influence is most powerful, but some of it surely has to do with a given student's imagination (or maybe it should).
     
  18. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I agree and disagree variously....

    Not studying Shakespeare of any other pre-20th century writer because they're boring is like a biologist not studying plants because they're boring...you might still be able to get a job as a biologist, but you're gonna be lacking a huge chunk of education. Not that they're boring anyway, but I guess that's a personal thing. The language isn't too bad once you get used to them...
    And remember that its not all old books that become classics...what I mean is, they're not classics by virtue of being old, they're classics by virtue of their enduring popularity and significance in the canon of English literature. There are plenty of pre-20th century novels that have been all but forgotten - only a select few, who are worthy of reading and studying, remain today.

    I do agree that more modern texts should be included at high school (at most universities, there are plenty of modern texts as the course convenors select the texts themselves according to what they are teaching, not according to a syllabus laid down by the govt). In my high school education, the most recent book I read was about 15 years old, while the oldest were approaching 400 years. There are plenty of great modern books to read. However, that doesn't make them good books to teach. I only really realised this when I got to uni, but all the books you read at high school are very easy to teach and understand (comparatively, of course)(and with the exception of A2 level texts, some of which are quite complex...). There is little criticism on many modern texts, few resources that teachers or students can consult in which to extend their knowledge of the text, and few(er) people in general who have read them, which makes it harder to mark consistently if every school is allowed to choose their own exam texts.
    You should also remember that the subject is English Literature, not English Books, and literature isn't a title that's just handed out all the time. It takes time for a great book to become literature, and critical interest and commentary, canonisation, etc.
    I strongly disagree with the notion that modern literature is more valuable simply because kids can understand it better. Why shouldn't they be expected to work? Can they understand calculus right away? No, not usually, but people don't wanna get rid of that in favour of teaching them to use a calculator.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    And yet many universities are doing just that - deemphasizing calculus and other college level math, even for engineering programs, in favor of plug-in formulas that the students have no idea how they were derived,

    But that's a side rant. It's the thorn in my side that drives me to become a college math/science instructor after I reture from the software industry.
     
  20. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    From personal experience, it's not so much the books students have to read, its the way our education system forces them to interpret them and search for meanings that most students perceive aren't there.

    As for Shakespeare I don't know if this happens anywhere else, but at my old school we used to do class readings where every member of the class would be assigned a part and several lessons would be spent droning and mispronouncing our way through "Romeo and Juliet" or "Macbeth" or "Julius Caesar". And trust me it's enough to put anyone off the Bard for, if not life, a very long time.

    Edit: I've never understood the "Well, at least they're interested" rational for teaching more popular books and the "I suppose they're reading something, which has to be good, right?" viewpoint in general. To me that's like saying "well at least he's getting out and meeting new people" after little Timmy goes off and joins a gang.
     
  21. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    ^ My classes did that too, but there were enough drama students that it was actually quite entertaining, and really you need to "see" a play to understand it, reading just ins't the same. But yeah, I guess I don't understand the "not getting" literature thing. I mean, the scores in my English classes were always pretty decent, no one had any major trouble understanding things, and if they did, the teachers always worked it out with them. Maybe NZ just has more good teachers or something :D (the average score in my A2 english class was over 75% in the final exams....but we did have the best teacher in NZ....and she had an award to prove it haha)
    But yeah, I do think it depends a lot on the teacher, even morethan the texts chosen....
     
  22. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a lot more to Judy Blume than the Superfudge books, which are really only suitable for school reading in grade four. Books like Are you there God, it's me, Margaret and Deenie. That is perfect for kids in grades six to eight, not because of the reading level, but thematically. Those books are all about kids and what they go through during those years. When I was fifteen, my English teacher told me to read Deenie because I have the same medical condition as the main character. Then, of course, there is Forever, which is downright pornographic with the sexual content. It would be R-rated if it were made into a movie and showed everything that is in the book. I wouldn't let anyone under the age of twelve read it.
     
  23. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    That is true Rei. Forever is more for over 14 I would say, pertaining to the content of the theme.
     
  24. luckyprophet
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    luckyprophet Member

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    1. kids
    School is the place where life begins to be awful; there's no way of changing that!

    2. cheating at school/life
    School is the place and time when a child begins to make decisions, and turn into a person. It isn't bad that we grow up ...

    3. School
    School is the place and time when we began to know other people! :), girls! :) :), friends :) :) :) ... So, there's compensation to the awfulness in life.


    Not "automatically". There's a lot of things written in their times that didn't linger, because they weren't good. We don't even know them anymore. These guys were lucky that they became "cults" through the generations.

    Tradition exists.

    Time doesn't let go around people who have absolutely no value, so, there IS something interesting in Shakespeare and Dickens, even for children. Some will like them, some won't, but such is life: not everyone likes literature; some prefer physics or maths. Modern life is horrible in what concerns education but, at least, there is access to everyone, not only to rich people. (And, still, there's a lot of people who don't have access to Shakespeare, Dickens, Dante or Cervantes.)

    (Lucky guys, by the way, these few ones elected by the barrier of the generations ... :rolleyes: Homer is around for a while! :D )


    (I have other readings for bedtime ... Therefore I have to find other times for the classics.)

    1. Boring
    To learn how to think and use imagination IS boring, at least for people who already use imagination in other ways (such as children, writers, painters, and physicists (Einstein is famous for not being a genius in maths ...). It demands effort, and we already have other ways of using our imagination, so ... it's human: we don't want make effort or spend energy. (This is one of the reasons I came to find myself here: there's a point when, without spending some sort of effort, we get stuck. I like to write, but I need exercise, advice ...)

    2. Modern work
    I have to admit that I don't spend much time in modern work. Maybe I'll read Asimov ... I'll try one short story in which a movie was based, just a while ago, because, even having been modified for cinema, there's something that interests me in the source, the sort of thing I'm searching for my own writing, so, once it caught my attention, I'll read it, and ponder. However, modern stuff doesn't attract me, because there's no much use afterwards. There's ALWAYS use for Homer, Chaucer, Goethe (I don't intend to read this one, a man has to choose, but there IS use for him ...), Shakespeare ...

    I can't bear much the more recent ones, from the French Revolution to the present. I think they're still too much like myself, however, I was talking to a disciple of mine yesterday (Historian, I teach him Latin), and the talk convinced me to evesdrop Mary Shelley ...

    Pretty much said.

    Long live the oldies! :D 'n throw them into kids mouths! They'll either love it or vomit them all.

    (In my opinion, it's easier for a kid to take a modern thing to read, because of all the media work, than to take the Don Quixote ... So, it's good that the difficult reading is kept for school. Rare will be a kid who will take it in daddy's shelf, and .. not so common the dad who has it among his tools in the garage.

    However, there might be interesting to have some space for modern production at school, it sounds interesting, but: how? I don't have the slightest idea ...)
     
  25. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure you all are aware that Reading Rainbow has been cancelled after 26 years running. Reading Rainbow was a show that promoted the benefits of reading and why reading is fun --not how to read.

    I think this is a problem with primary schools that has evolved into a high school pandemic. I feel like very few people see the joy in reading, or even see the purpose of learning to read at all, anymore. This is where the problem begins.

    Do not sacrifice something so beneficial because some kids are resistant and are too stubborn to see the beauty in it. Changes other kids' lives. And while you're at it, perhaps a 'learning is fun' environment would be good to bring back to the educational systems instead of focusing on the hidden curriculum. :(
     

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