"They can crack the alphabetic code," he said. "But they can't stay focused and comprehend what they've read. And if they run into something that doesn't seem right to them, they simply don't believe it. I'm not talking about differences of opinion; I'm talking about facts. They don't even form an argument against it, they just decide that it doesn't feel true to them, so it must not be."
Last weekend's conference was saturated with quotes like this. My favorite was from a teacher who discussed 1984: it's fantastically depressing, he said. It's about guilt and shame and lies and it's awful. I love it. But I don't care whether you love it. It's not about that. It's about the value of the novel. What is the value in reading about surveillance, government? If you can see value in it, your personal feelings about the book are really irrelevant.
Another teacher showed us all this cartoon. There were a few scattered giggles, and then he asked us (about 200 in that session) honestly, if we'd "gotten it." About 25% raised their hands (I was not among them; although I did know who was in the cartoon, I didn't get the football connection.) The presenter explained that although we were all [presumably] intelligent and literate, we were missing a meaningful connection to the work. This, he explained was how kids could read "Catcher in the Rye" but not understand Holden's struggle with identity. They get the words. They just don't get the deeper meaning.
Partly, it inspired me -- the methods he and others had pioneered, ways to involve and engage and motivate their students, were incredible. Partly, it depressed me. The idea that kids need to be tricked into caring about learning and reading and absorbing information, even if they don't personally love it or even value it -- well, it's disheartening, to say the least. Guys, this is what school is about: learning for the sake of learning, learning because it's a healthy and smart and interesting thing to do. It won't all be relevant, and very little of it will be relevant right now. You have to believe that there's an end to these means, and if you don't, why are you even going to school in the first place?
I've written about this before, my kids' aversion to facts -- but it still galls me. It's also a little frightening, the way they can pump out bland, canned opinion so readily, but be so reluctant to do an interview, look up a statistic or otherwise prove what they've just thrown out into the open as Truth. Frightening, but not surprising. They see and do it all the time. No one's to stop them from unleashing a tirade of expletives and bad grammar upon a blogger or even a newswriter with whom they disagree. No one will demand proof of "You Suck" written under a Youtube video or iTunes playlist. Why do I think they will leave all that behind when they enter my classroom?
It's all most troubling, and I don't have a lot of answers. Most days I just try to show them my own enthusiasm and hope that rubs off!
*I know, the CC post is five days old -- ancient, in blogspeak -- but I am just catching up on everything I missed over the weekend. Irony of ironies, it turns out that we were both in Philly this weekend, just didn't realize it until Monday!