Monday, August 24, 2009

A Word about Required Reading

When I taught high school, the debate about reading requirement generally centered around whether or not students could be required to read in the summer. I have never understood who propogated the idea of summer reading as burdensome, but evidently, some parents bought into the notion.

A quick search, though, will turn up interesting lists of required reading for incoming college freshman at many of the nation's colleges and universities. The idea of using a common reading for all freshman as a transition into college academic life has become common practice, often including appearances by the author and small-group discussions headed by instrctors in a variety of disciplines. The titles may be controversial (Ann Patchett reported received death threats when her memoir Truth and Beauty was chosen at one South Carolina university), but the practice generally seems to be accepted and generally successful.

At the community college where I teach, each semester a book is selected for all developmental reading and writing classes. Instructors at other levels have the option of using the book as well. Sometimes an author visit coincides (usually in the spring), but at other times, the book stands alone. Seeing students relaxing between campus, reading the assigned book, makes me smile. Sometimes I have even seen students laughing out loud as they read. I really love that.

For our fall semester this year, the department selected Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Paul Farmer, a Harvard-educated doctor who has spent his life fighting disease and the other ravages of poverty, first in Haiti, then Peru, then around the world. I hadn't read any of Kidder's books before, though I have a copy of Among Schoolchildren on my shelves. Admittedly, I prefer fiction to non-fiction ninety-nine percent of the time.

I found the book on CD at the local library, so I thought that would be a great way to introduce myself to the book. The first few chapters seemed a bit slow, but when the author moved back to Farmer's childhood, I was hooked. The more I listened on my ride to and from campus, the more convicted I felt that I had a responsibility to do my part to help others in the world. The book also reinforced the idea that all people don't need to respond the same way. Some have funds to share; some have medical training. Finding one's gift and a way to share it--that's the challenge.

In the past year or two, I felt a similar response when I read Three Cups of Tea and Monique and the Mango Rains. In fact, having worked for about 18 years as a childbirth educator, I realize that I might be able to serve most capably by helping the "Clinique Monique" project. As an educator, too, I can unapologetically inspire students to read books that not only entertain them but move them toward finding ways to make the world a better place, making their own lives richer.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Nancy, I too don't understand why reading is considered punishment. I would expect parents to applaud our efforts to help their children become well read, more articulate, more aware.... Not so. Maybe we've gone about it the wrong way. Recently I've decided to pitch reading as enjoyable (Crazy, I know). "Read for enjoyment," I say! I don't really care what it is at first--just turn off the television and READ! And guess what--they are! We shared our books last week, and I got all kinds of books. I've caught kids reading in the hall (What?!?!) and when they finish their assignments (Instead of talking?!?!). I don't know how long we can sustain this enthusiasm, but I'm happy to be able to say, "How's the Life of Pi coming? What's going on in Persuasion?" Maybe I'm on to something around here...Thanks for your ideas. 'Can't wait to read some of your recommendations. -Jeanne Foust, MHBS