The education secretary believes children should be reading up to 50 books a year. I thought back to how I viewed reading and books when I was learning and what kind of education I see my kids having.
The way I see it there are a few issues with this ‘hope’.
Firstly, it is unrealistic and insensitive (or just plain crazy) to expect already overworked children with way too much homework to then read. I feel the homework is compensating for the lack of meaningful exams until kids are 16. So, kids don’t really have the time, nor the mind capacity or attention span to do all this. I only manage to read about 3-4 books a year, so how will they when they have so much more to do?
Secondly, the books in the curriculum are bloody boring. Looking at the list, it seems that within a generation is only about 5-10% of titles have changes. The problem with this is that the books don’t reflect society and the kids’ lives today so they do not feel any affinity for it. The ‘classics’ are still the same and they are as dull as they were in my time.
Thirdly, what are we actually trying to teach them? Is the aim to teach them whether they understand context, plot, character traits or morals and can articulate it? Or is the aim to teach them what someone’s interpretation of a specific book is? The former is more appealing, more personal and more relevant. The latter is more egotistical and does not allow kids to develop their thought processing skills.
Lastly, it’s making it work, not fun… I never enjoyed books (of any kind) until I did it because I wanted to and not because I was forced to. Especially when they have consoles, mobile phones and social networking as alternatives.
So what is the solution?
I think there should be an element of self-selection – i.e. kids choose the books they wish to read (teachers / parents agree as to the suitability of the title). They then perform the same task (for example, writing an essay on the moral of the story) irrespective of the book they are reading. They are marked on their ability to articulate and write their arguments not how well they regurgitate what their teacher told them.
I think this will deal with most of the points I made above; the books they select reflect their world (at least in their eyes); they will find them more appealing (and therefore not work – or not as much work) and we are teaching them to think for themselves and valuing their thoughts and perspective.
Whilst I don’t believe 50 books a year will ever happen, I think the idea above might just get kids reading a little bit more. And then we’re making progress.