At the beginning of the year, I posted about the reading competition Chestnut's 6th grade teacher had initiated. Each kid was supposed to fill out a "mini-review" slip of paper for every book read, and whoever read the most books, won! Wow, winning!
What did they win? It wasn't clear, it was all about winning! Because you read the most books! Big numbers of books! Triumphing over your enemies!
When it started, I mostly felt bad about the kids who wouldn't win—kids who aren't into reading, and who would feel even worse about all this. My kid, I noted blithely in the comments, would be fine, fine, fine, because she liked competition, and loved to read.
Well guess what?
Here's how it went down.
First, was the reading. The compulsive reading and filling out slips and reading and filling out slips. Then came the nervous/proud keeping track. Who's reading the most? It looks like she's reading the most. But what about this other kid—maybe she's reading more? Then came the reading in response to that: the head down, dogged reading. A grim grind, book read, slip posted, book read? Slip posted. This went on for weeks.
Then, a few weeks ago, came the tears, in a heartfelt bedtime torrent. What I got, more or less, was this:
"At first it seemed really fun, because I really like to read! And then I read so many books that all these kids started to pay attention. And then they wanted me to beat this kid in the other class, and every day they asked me if I read more books, and how many did I read, and how many was I going to read that day, and then I started to not read books that were really long, because it would take me too long, and now…now I almost don't want to read at all, because every book just looks like the thing I will have to write a review of, and I don't even like to read anymore almost, and I don't know what to do…."
What did I do? Gave her what was probably crappy advice (sometimes every day seems like an opportunity to give your kid reasons to berate you in some unspecified future): I told her that she could just stop. She'd done what she needed for her class, it didn't really matter if she won, or if anyone won, and if it was robbing her of pleasure, she should just stop. Not stop reading, just stop posting the damn reviews.
It seemed to calm her, at least.
My concern: that I'm telling her not to try, not to participate but to hold herself apart. Which is not what I want her to do. Which is what I worry I am somehow demonstrating by the example of my own life. When is not trying to win holding on to what matters to you, and when is it copping out because you don't want to get roughed up?
My conviction: This is a profoundly crappy way to get kids excited about reading.
My irritation: I know, I KNOW that classes are too big, and there is no time for teachers to get excited with each kid but…I miss that kind of English teacher. The one who slipped you some book or another and said "I think you'll really like this," which gave you a whole new way to see yourself: as someone who would like that. The one who could just talk to you about books, and it was exciting.*
I am trying really hard not to be unbearably precious about all of this, but it's…it's just so disappointing. I mean, it's not like I thought "Middle school! Where my children will experience great literature, and true happiness!" I know the teachers are doing their best. I know no teacher was thinking I would have to deal with a weeping 6th grader who just…couldn't…take…the…pressure! But still. It's just a bummer.
*Note: I don't know that I myself actually ever had an English teacher
like that, it is entirely possible that I am cobbling together this
vision from having seen too many inspiring movies/read too many moving