Julia loves to read. She reads books, like Dickinson says, to travel abroad. She's been living now, for about 2 years, in a place called Redwall Abbey. She does occasionally visit us here at home.
And at school, she is way ahead of her peers. Her lowest grades are in "Reading" on her report card. The stories they read in their "literature" books are about 4 pages long, and, Julia admits, they are boring.
But this year, our school started an AR program -- "accelerated reader." Yeah, that's Julia. It's a computerized program that has quizzes for thousands of books. The child reads a book, the child takes a computer quiz, and is awarded points for how well he does. The goal, of course, is to amass as many points as possible.
You get more points for longer, harder books, and especially for books above your grade level.
So, you guessed it, Julia has the highest AR score in the entire elementary school.
She would read anyway -- she DID read anyway. She likes the points, but they're just extra.
Not so for some of the other students in her class. These boys (especially) are very competitive. They don't like to lose, especially to a girl!! So, they're reading and quizzing, and reading and quizzing. And it's good for them. Well, better than not reading at all.
Why do we read?
I know the answer to that question for myself, and for many of my bookish friends. We read because we love to absorb information. Or because we long to enter into the thought-life of another human and discover what's there. Or sometimes, because a writer's style is as lovely as a ripe peach. Or her settings are places we long to be. Or her characters people we long to know. And their lives ... well, we are voyeurs, aren't we?
But, competitive reading? Is that something we really want to INSTILL into our children?
And it's a dilemma. Is it better than not reading at all? As a high school literature teacher, I say yes. I need these kids to be able to read. If they don't read SOMETHING throughout elementary school, they will actually lose the skill. They won't comprehend words when they're 15.
But how sad that we must trick them into it. We use their competitive tendencies, honed so well on the soccer field 12 hours a week, so that they will be willing to do something that their curiosity should lead them to naturally.
I know it's a broken record by now, but I can't help thinking that if their parents would simply read at home, instead of driving them around to this playing field and that fast food joint -- would just have books along the walls instead of the latest screen game. . . . Well, you understand.