They’re Reading What?

   Being in a number of schools, one particular site has stood out as a “Why’d they do that?” when it comes to selecting class reading texts.

   Assigned to an unruly, inattentive 8th grade class, I always look through the available classroom materials to get familiar with what students deal  with daily.  While they were out of the room for an enrichment session, I took a look around.

      Not agreeing with most of basal readers in my district, [I don’t support a “one reader fits all” method], I came across the series used that marking period. To say the least, I was saddened and appalled at the same time.        

        One text in particular was titled, “Total Panic: Crime & Punishment.”
The main focus of each  featured selection glorified some aspect of famous (or infamous)  American criminal; don’t they get enough of this on TV, through video games, etc.? These inner-city students were fed accounts emphasizing   Bonnie & Clyde, Ma Barker, Dillinger–“A Crook With Style” read the subtitle, James Earl Ray, and Machine Gun Kelly.  

       The publisher’s intent was to develop reading skills by capitalizing on our fascination with crime and catastrophe. The disclaimer said they weren’t meant to be “seen in a positive light,” but reading through them gave me  just the opposite impression.

       Illustrated with lurid pictures from newspapers and other primary sources, these kids are given the  false idea that as long as they’re reading anything, it’s OK. I was told that this is a series developed to attract reluctant, urban readers. But can’t there be other, less violent-centric topics to present?

      Yes, it’s non-fiction, yes, it’s informational, but is it  inspirational? I think not. This just gives those kids already not inclined to reading for joy, the idea  that if it’s not focused on sensationalism, it’s really not cool.

      The textbook publishers, and the school district might profit in some way, but in the end, it’s the students who get damaged the most.


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