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I Think It Is Good that Books Still Exist, but They Make Me Sleepy *

February 10, 2010

When I was in elementary school, I dreaded reading time. I’d learned to read early, first figuring out the connection between words in print and sounds I heard when I heard Campbell soup’s “mmm, mmm, good” on the radio at the same time I saw it on a billboard. By the time I was in school and part of reading groups slowly slogging through the illustrated pages of look-look-see-see sameness, I was bored spitless by the slow-moving ordeal.

I hid Nancy Drew behind my textbooks and got lost in her world of always escapable peril. I got in trouble for this. Books were confiscated, but were always returned. In retrospect, these teachers, none of whom ever got to know me very well because my family moved a lot, probably couldn’t bring themselves to keep a book from a child who was actually enthralled by reading.

As I got older, the library was my refuge. One of my greatest thrills was being old enough to ride my bicycle to the library and having a basket large enough to hold the books that fed my voracious appetite for reading. Now I teach a course called language and literacy for people who will soon be teaching middle and high schoolers and I’m saddened when some of them say that they hate to read, not because I think that everybody should love to read, but because I’m afraid that their attitude may influence someone who could get joy from this passion but may turn away because of words from a respected adult.

I understand that some people don’t enjoy reading, but it saddens me equally when someone discounts the value of anyone else’s passion for learning. It could be math or science that’s dismissed as “not fun.” It could be social studies that’s denigrated or art that’s deemed worthless to study. Perhaps it’s music or PE or–oh, no!–writing that’s a waste of time. Whatever.

If you’re a college student, you might be surprised to know that your attitudes toward your studies can shape the beliefs of younger siblings, of cousins, of friends’ children, of your children, of anyone younger than you who is listening and watching and wondering what life will be like once they have the endless choices they imagine are in store for them once they complete their compulsory education.

Class discussion in adolescent development this week centered on the influence of adults. When you’re still in school—even if you are choosing to be there—it’s easy to imagine that you won’t have any influence on someone else’s growth until you actually get where you’re going yourself. But I’ve just finished reading lots of stories about the influence not only of teachers and parents, but also of others not much past adolescence themselves who made a difference in the life of someone younger. Role models are found in unexpected places. Are you one?

What would someone younger than you learn about student success from watching you in school or listening to you talk about it?

Don’t worry that children never listen to you, worry that they are always watching you.
• Robert Fulghum

* Thanks to Frank Zappa for the title quotation.

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4 comments

  1. “I do not know whether it is possible to love the planet or not, but I do know that it is possible to love the places we can see, touch, smell, and experience. And I believe that rootedness in a place is the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” ~David Orr

    This quote embodies not only my year in the Master’s of Science Environmental Education program, but also my philosophy on education.

    This winter, our herpetology class took a field trip to the coast to identify salamanders and frogs. We spent most of our time exploring the forest, covered with mossy logs, ferns and cold rocky tributaries trickling down the slopes. Honestly, I had never been very fond of slimy salamanders simply because I’d never taken the time to get to know them. After a weekend of adventure and discovery in the fairylike forest, I found these creatures fascinating and their home magical. Cradling them in my hands and observing their behavior instigated my love for salamanders. I know I would not feel this way if I simply read about them in a book. As many of us know, placed-based education connects people to their local environment while stimulating wonder and concern to protect these types of habitats in danger of destruction.

    I have been reflecting on this concept through my own teaching over the past ten weeks with Rogue Valley Farm to School. I relish in sharing my passion with diverse students through farm education. They gain a “sense of season” for healthy local produce and a “sense of place” by building community with their local farmers and exploring natural elements such as dirt, worms, and plants. Lets continue to recognize the importance of outdoor hands-on learning in our education system.

    “Whether urban or rural, the landscape in which children find themselves is the staging ground for their imagination, their story, their sense of the world”
    –Dorothy Blair


  2. Lovely quotations, Lucy. Whenever I smell the lilacs in the spring I am reminded of all the hours I spent as a child in imaginary worlds under the lilac bush in my grandparents’ yard. I’ve just been thinking how sad it is that children’s time is often so organized that there is little space to get outdoors and make your own fun, real and imaginary. W-OZ


  3. I have always thought of myself as a huge proponent for mathematics and constantly try to convince students to love the subject that I love because it seems to be the one that is constantly picked on. I never thought that I was contributing to the overall problem of student dislike and disinterest of subjects, but I guess I have. After reading and rereading this post, I realized that I have caught myself talking bad about other subjects (cough…English) to students during class. I suppose I have never really thought about the impact that I have upon student development.

    I do have to say, aside from my occasional outburst about English class, I try my best to motivate students to like school. This seems to come naturally seeing as I do want to become a teacher. I have seen quite a few students who came into the classroom hating math, and now (for whatever reason) are the ones who are the math leaders of the classroom. I don’t know if I had anything to do with this transformation, but I feel that I may have planted a seed in their mind that math can be and is fun.


  4. It’s so important for all of us to support one another and be careful what we say about other teachers’ subjects–it really can affect students and it’s much better if the effect is positive! W-OZ



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