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05 January 2012

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Annie

I haven't taught inner city kids so I can't say from personal experience what they might prefer. But even if they can read Homer, would they prefer it? (Would 90% of teens?) And shouldn't part of English class be devoted to fostering a love of reading?

sassymonkey

Hmm possibly second of the year. There was that Dan Krokos Goodreads/Twitter thing (though I think that technically started before the new year and only hit the fan after it. Maybe.)

Leila

@sassymonkey: GOOD FREAKING LORD, I missed that one. I'll have to catch up.

CC

I'm not sure what the point is? Classics is nothing BUT sex and violence? [duh] (but it's elevating? Or classy? Or *better*?)

I OBVIOUSLY think archaic and classical Greek lit is the best stuff ever written. But I don't need to appeal to some outdated, colonialist, racist bullshit to make my point.

Kids find what they need, if given the chance. I did.

Lisa Yee

No one is stopping kids from reading Homer, and Walter Dean Myers may just get them to start. And if not Homer, then any number of great books of today that may be the classics of tomorrow.

CC

And (I'm sorry, I can't stop) O.K., so WDM is no Homer, but who is? No one. Contemporary critics bagged on Virgil for the same reason. I am so mad right now.

[FYI Bookshelves readers: I teach Latin and Greek at the uni/college level for both love and money.]

CC

And to blame MARY BEARD!?! (I swear I'll stop now.)

Michele

My son reads Homer and WDM - there is room for both.

Leila

I knew you were going to get explode-y, CC.

I love me some Homer, and I love me some Myers, and there's no reason that kids should only be exposed to one or the other. And there's no reason to talk up Homer by bagging on a popular contemporary author -- I'd think that that argument would only serve to alienate WDM fans (or Stephen King fans, or Stephenie Meyer fans, or whoever), which is kind of the wrong way to go.

aquafortis

Oh, yay, another high art elitist. (OK, I promise not to start on my rant about the high art/low art distinction...) :)

Why do Homer and Walter Dean Myers need to be mutually exclusive? And how is it productive to pass a value judgment on *what* kids are reading when we should be focusing on whether kids are reading at all in the first place? If they don't learn to read for pleasure, their chances of enjoying Homer are not too great, I'd say. And it's hard to learn to read for pleasure when people are telling you what you *should* be reading.

aquafortis

Oh, um, rant over. *Slinks off in mild embarrassment*

(monkey)Steve

CC, your first comment is just amazingly, beyond-words, fantastically wonderful.

Hope

I think this is a debate that's too big for a single Opinion piece, but I think it's important and worth having. DOES it matter what kids read? It's a constant question. I think many kids read WDM and then nothing else, for the entire rest of their lives. We talk a lot in this profession about how to get a kid to read (something, *anything*), but we don't spend a lot of time talking about how to get him to read something *better.* How do you move someone from the eye-catching Soap Opera of their lives books to something more challenging? And if you don't ever do that, what good have you really done? When we say that kids who read do better in life, I don't think we mean the kids who loved WDM in High School and stopped there. We mean the kids who moved on to more challenging stuff and continue to read as adults.

Sure, they absolutely must take the first step and read *something.* But I worry that we've just carved the first step down so short that they can make it, but we don't want to be reminded that the NEXT step is still just as high up as it was before. I think point of the opinion piece is that if you don't get them to read something more challenging, and appreciate it, it won't make much difference in their lives. Not sure, myself, that the Classics are the only answer, but whatevs.

Hope

Of course, now he's gone and said this:

@NYDNBooks
Page Views
@elizabethfama @huffpostbooks: Just someone more serious. Someone who won't pander to black children with ghetto stories, It's shameful.

Jesus Christ. Why would you say that someone with a slogan like Reading Is Not An Option is a panderer? Does it sound like he's pandering?

Kelly

I was shocked to see such harsh words about an acclaimed children's author by another. Myers is hardly one-note (At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England is an excellent piece of YA biography.)

Kids who can't read Myers won't be able to read classics.

What really gets my goat is that the guy who brags about reading the smutty parts of classics --"fellatio and anal sex"-- to fifteen-year-olds is accusing someone else of pandering.

Liz B

Homer v. WDM = stupid. Kids read both. If your only way of supporting Homer is by calling WDM insipid, your argument isn't strong enough to begin with.

What & how & why anyone reads involves so many different elements, including escapism, which is a valid choice. So what if someone's reading life is all xxx? Does that reflect their entire life? During which time period is that judgment made? Why do people have to "defend" such choices with "yes, it's what I read when my grandmother was dying of cancer" "oh, OK, then romance was ok for you then, but for those other people, read something better."

I'm over it, frankly, and if people think less of those who read WDM or Nora Roberts, so be it. It's telling me more about the judge than the judged.

My main problem with the article is its baiting people for responses -- it's stirring the pot to get hits.

Hope

Well, until I read the twitter feed, I didn't think he WAS baiting people for a response. Now that I've read some of his other work, I've changed my mind. I wanted to say "Why can't we have an intelligent discussion on this sort of thing, without acting like douchebags?" But then I thought calling someone a douchebag is me not having the intelligent conversation I JUST said I wanted. Sigh.

But I do want to make it clear that I wasn't suggesting people shouldn't read their WDM or their Romances. I just think it's important to teach more challenging stuff in school, for a lot of reasons.

Leila

Kelly: Your last sentence made me fall over laughing.

Liz B: Agreed across the board.

Like many of you, my take is this: Want to promote the classics? Go crazy with your bad self! Have a blast! Many of the classics are totally AWESOME, in terms of language, story, history of literature, etc. BUT. Rather than doing it by bashing popular fiction -- and thus, alienating fans of popular fiction, who are exactly the people you're trying to reach -- maybe you should do it by using the popular fiction as a catapult to the stuff that you're promoting. You might get better results that way. Because, otherwise, in bashing popular fiction, you're just preaching to the choir of other like-minded folk. As well as making the people you're trying to reach feel crappy and defensive about their reading choices, and thus, connecting crappy feelings with reading in general, which (I assume) is the OPPOSITE of what you want. When you tell someone that their reading taste is crap, you're discouraging them from reading.

I'm not saying that popular fiction SHOULD be a catapult to The Classics, by the way, or to whatever your personal version of The Canon is -- I, personally, am all about people reading what they want to read, because they like to read it: But for the folks who want to promote them, it might be a more successful way of going about things.

Anyway.

Leila

@Hope: We totally posted at the same time! Anyway, agreed.

Kelly

He didn't just bash popular fiction --he singled out one author, and an acclaimed one at that. I think he could have made his point --and even better-- if he hadn't dissed Myers.

If he had written an article saying "Kids are reading crap today. Let's teach 'em the classics again," we'd probably all be cheering him on.

Leila

No, he didn't just bash popular fiction, but I extrapolated out, because similar arguments have been made about the classics vs. popular fiction. It sent me on a tangent. Going after Myers like that was way unclassy, IMHO, and I agree with Liz B above that to some extent, it's very probably linkbait.

I don't necessarily agree with your second point, though -- I certainly think that some people would cheer him on if he said that, but I suspect that the suggestion that "kids are reading crap today" would ruffle feathers in more than a few corners. Again, I'm not remotely against teaching (or reading) the classics. But there's plenty of room for classic fiction and contemporary fiction. (Or poetry, or nonfiction, or whatever.)

Liz B

One of the things wrong with this article is combining all sorts of things in one giant pot. Reading for pleasure v what is taught in schools are two very different things. Even teaching has multiple needs: is the point teaching a core group of classics? (Actually, I say "yes.") Is the point to get kids to love reading? (Again I say yes. But guess what? These books may be different from the "read classics" I just said "yes" to so already my head hurts with doing both.) But what about Business Reading? Whenever I hear about poor reading skills being complained about in the business world, I think "Homer (or other literary work) won't fix that. Knowing how to write a business report, to analyze stock data, to do a brief position statement, is very different from the lit - driven English class." So, yeah, I just added something else to what a teacher has to do. But my point isn't to add: it's that there are different needs, different wants, and no one-book-fits all solution.

Leila

Science writing; popular vs. academic; literature vs. literary criticism; learning to read with an eye towards challenging what the author is saying (in other words, learning to not accept everything someone says at face value; etc., etc., etc.

Leila

Annnnd, I forgot to close my parentheses. So, here. --> )

tanita

Wow. I just missed this whole thing.
Sheeesh. The baiting thing starts already.

marjorie

Have you READ the Iliad lately? Fight fight fight, kvetch kvetch kvetch, the end.

I do not think the Iliad is any better than Monster. It's just OLDER.

Anyone who tut-tuts about how kids should be reading the classics instead of recent books is someone who doesn't actually like to read. There are some classics that are enticing (maybe even the Odyssey!) and there are some current books that are spinach and IMPORTANT and boring as butt. Gee, maybe it DEPENDS ON THE BOOK. Generalizations are odious. And dopey. Either this guy is a non-reader himself or he's doing some LOOK AT MEEEEEE Ann-Coulter-y performance art.

rockinlibrarian

I just think he's being so blatantly NOT THINKING-- it's not so much whether he has any valid arguments, when it mostly just seems like he's got some kind of personal vendetta against Myers. From whence comes all this rage? Why didn't he have a fit about Paterson or Scieszka? What is he even TALKING about? It's just bewildering.

Hope

Marjorie, this is the worst part of someone making an argument the way Nazaryan did. People want to call the whole thing stupid. Yes, I've read the Iliad lately. It's not what I'd recommend for ninth graders, but I believe it has a great deal more depth and complexity than Monster. And I say that as someone who admires Walter Dean Myers. We don't need to reduce it to fight, fight, fight, kvetch, kvetch, kvetch, to say the Alexander Nazaryan is rude, self-important and narrow-minded.

Leila

Hope, I'll second what you said about The Iliad: I loved it. I actually had a hard time putting it down. Same goes for a lot of other classics. However -- and it's a however that the article doesn't take into account -- however, I was already a big reader when I read it (and a lot of the other classics that I hold dear).

I became a big reader because I got hooked on reading through Susan Cooper and Diana Wynne Jones and Piers Anthony (<--that one is somewhat embarrassing, but there was a summer where I read little else), Robert Asprin, Agatha Christie, Lois Lowry, and Elizabeth Peters. Most of those authors, I suspect, the author of the article would poo-poo.

Hope

Leila, I'm afraid of doing that thing where one keeps going on and on about something when people around you just want you to shut up. Please tell me if I am being annoying. I agree that being a reader already can make it easier to get into The Iliad, but I think it's a mistake to think that it's *necessary.* Thinking like that leads people to drop great books from curriculums because "these kids wouldn't get anything out of it anyway." I think that's a shame. With more faith in the kids, and more faith in their teaching, people I know have done amazing things with the classics in classrooms full of kids reading way below grade level (and wow, not one of them had to shit on Walter Dean Myers to do it, Mr. Nazaryan).

Liz B

Hope: exactly. I teach one thing one doesn't have to shit on another. This, this, this.

I read a bit of everything, and have different reading modes. If I were judged for my child/teen reading, it would depend on the time period I was being observed: people would have either been impressed by Waugh, Bronte, Austen and Shakesepeare being read because I wanted to or been dismayed by all the Louis L'Amour and the Simon Templar books (preferably the older ones, of course.)

Liz B

argh. excuse the terrible grammar. off to finish my cup of coffee and not even attempt to use capitals.

Leila

@Hope: Absolutely no need to apologize -- this is good stuff, and worth discussing! And, no, I don't think it's necessarily "necessary" (<--ha!) to be a reader already to appreciate The Iliad. Passionate, engaging teachers make all the difference in that department, and I've seen that happen first hand.

@Liz B: Enjoy your coffee!

As Liz B pointed out above, what's "necessary" in the classroom is also dependent on what the goal of the class is -- I think that's so important to remember, and I think that it too-often falls by the wayside. Regardless, I think every single person is going to have a different opinion about all of it! Which is why I enjoy these conversations so much, and think that they're so worthwhile.

Even if they were sparked by someone pulling Ye Olde Crap On Someone Else In An Attempt To Make His Argument Seem More Valid thing. Yecch.

As for "necessary" outside of the classroom, I think, again, as Liz B said above, that what is "necessary" differs from situation to situation and person to person. For me, personally, The Iliad and other classics are necessary because, as a reader and critic (<--not in a high falutin' way, of course), I like to have a solid foundation and understanding of What Came Before. And also, because I genuinely like reading them for the stories and the language. But that's just for me, personally -- not in terms of classrooms or in terms of What I Think Other People Should Do. Because, despite my bi-monthly OMG EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THIS BOOK freakouts, I'm pretty live-and-let-live about reading.

Lisa

I think it would be fab if everyone wanted to read the Odyssey, was able to read it, fully enjoyed and appreciated it, and then noticed the various allusions to it that are sprinkled throughout so many other forms of culture, both high and low (and since I just finished watching Prison Break, I'm thinking of Scylla at the moment).

The more practical/mundane part of me just wants people to read, no matter what the material, because so few of them do. I'm thinking, So what? Is it really the end of the world if someone never gets any further than genre fiction or the sports pages in their reading life? I know plenty of women who read nothing but romance, and they're doing okay. Even if the books are formulaic, they provide escape and enjoyment, and occasionally offer a thought-provoking moment, too. I mean, it was a romance I read as a teen that taught me that Garibaldi unified Italy. That fact might have been mentioned at school, but it didn't stick. My roundabout point is that there's value in reading. Period. And also, That Guy can suck it!

Emily

Nazaryan comes across as a pretentious elitist in his opinion essay. And if his students in middle school were really that far behind in their reading levels as he indicated, then no, they did not have the skill set to read Homer. Understand it yes, if they all worked on it together, but not to sit down independently and read it and get anything out of it.
I work at a community college and we have so many students who cannot read and follow the directions for logging into their email or for their assignments. Reading comprehension is woeful in far too many people these days, and the only way to improve on that is to read things that engage the students and then discuss what they have read. (Something that isn't accomplished with Accelerated Reader but that's another post). Taking the attitude that only the classics are worth reading does a disservice to so many great books, and prevents a new generation of readers from developing. It also sends a message that if you don't enjoy these "classics" then somehow you are lacking. The classics are great, but it is really important to remember that what we view as a classic was once the pop culture phenomenon of that era. (Dickens and Twain anyone?)
Teenagers want to read books with characters that reflect themselves, especially if they are a minority of any kind. Should that be all that they read? No, but that is the job the librarians and teachers, to guide them to other books that they will like based on the books they pick out for themselves. Clearly Nazaryan has decided that he needs to save black kids from reading about their own lives because they can't be "elevated" if they don't stop reading Myers' works. Was anyone else bothered by the racism in that point of view? Sorry this was really rambling.

CC

Emily said: Clearly Nazaryan has decided that he needs to save black kids from reading about their own lives because they can't be "elevated" if they don't stop reading Myers' works. Was anyone else bothered by the racism in that point of view?

This bothered me SO SO SO much. I just cannot believe that anyone today would actively denigrate a man who is writing about the lived experience of an extremely marginalized population.

Liz B

Emily & CC; yes. I was also bothered by the racism.

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