Twilight is to College Bound Kids What Twinkies are to Marathoners

“Preparing them for a college education with “Twilight” is like preparing a marathoner with Twinkies.”

This line is from Alexander Nazaryan in her article, “Against Captain Underpants: How we are raising a generation of illiterates”, published in the NY Daily News. It comes just days after an op-ed by Dr Sandra Stotsky in Bloomberg stating that “New Reading Teachers Should Pass a Reading Test“.

Why so much interest in reading proficiency? Perhaps it’s because of a recent study demonstrating that the average American High School student reads at a 5th grade level.

“The republic cannot flourish in the 21st century, no matter how much time English or reading teachers spend teaching ‘21st century skills’ . . . if the bulk of our population is reading at or below the fifth-grade level.” — Dr Strotsky

Food for thought folks. If you have high school students who hope to go to college one day, you may want to check their school reading lists.  And if they’re long on books like Twilight, The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter and short on books like To Kill and Mocking Bird, The Great Gatsby, 1776, or Don Quixote, you may want to have a word with your child’s teacher.

Just because reading books like The Great Gatsby are a little boring and harder to get through than Harry Potter,  doesn’t mean our children shouldn’t be required to read The Great Gatsby and other classics, if for no other reason than to help them develop the habits of the mind that require them to pay attention to a task for more than a few minutes and extend themselves beyond their comfort zone.  Complacency isn’t a skill many employers desire, and it’s not a habit many successful people possess.

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8 Responses to “Twilight is to College Bound Kids What Twinkies are to Marathoners”

  1. Tina frasard Says:

    Can’t there be a compromise? I agree with the lack of quality in some of these books… I did not allow Junie B Jones or Captain Underpants when my kids were young. There were better options they could enjoy. However, I am noticing that high school kids are not reading as much for pleasure, only what they are forced to for class. When those books are boring, it doesn’t exactly motivate them to read on their own. I love some of the classics, but others, like A Tale of Two Cities, are torture. Surely there have been at least a few books of quality written between Antigone and Twilight! Have you read the suggested reading lists? Unwind, about allowing third children to live until age 13 and then harvesting all their body parts. Really? Many of the others are violent and depressing. A book can be good without pointing out the worst of mankind. While i have enjoyed some of Shakespeare, he was arguably a dirty old man if you really read a few of those plays… What exactly is the criteriia for good books? It has to be more than the writer has been dead for hundreds of years…. Can’t they find a balance of classic and modern, to teach kids how to read on a higher level, AND turn them into adults who read for pleasure?

  2. Jane Doe Says:

    Humm…good points, Tina. While I’d hope people would read for pleasure, but I’m not sure that’s something you can teach, nor is that something that should be an objective of pre-college or career instruction, at least in my opinion.

    I guess I’d ask what the priority is with reading in High School. In elementary school the objective is to learn to read and understand what you’re reading. In middle school the objective is to increase reading comprehension to more complicated and intricate text. In high school you’re increasing comprehension and vocabulary to even more complicated and intricate text and learning how to read, understand, and interpret documents like contracts, warranties, and instruction manuals because you need those skills to survive in the adult world. For college bound students being able to read a textbook and identify and retain the important information is vital, as just getting through chapters in many textbooks is a challenge even for people who enjoy reading. That’s not something you’ll find, or develop, by solely reading for pleasure.

    And there are many “classics” that are both interesting and challenging to read. Like Dracula, if we’re sticking with the supernatural vampire thing, Call of Wild and White Fang, The Scarlet Letter, Huck Finn, and Treasure Island. Even Jules Verne and Journey to the Center of the Earth or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. These are interesting books that aren’t the easiest to read but teach you about humanity and help kids develop the reading habits that will enable them to work through pages of text on the differences between Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals.

    And reading Shakespeare, as painful as it is, help you figure out how to read and understand complicated documents like the Declaration of Independence, a bill posted in the General Assembly, or even the health care law – skills which are particularly vital in college bound students.

    • Tina frasard Says:

      I agree, those are wonderful books! Not one has been on either of my children’s reading lists. I also agree with your description of the levels of reading instruction and their goals. I am in no way suggesting pop culture books supplant the current reading list or that the curriculum be “dumbed down.”. In my daughter’s preAP English 10 class, they can read Cosmo and other magazines for independent reading. Couldn’t that time be used for them to read NOVELS of their choice?
      As an avid reader, I feel my vocabulary and fluency have improved through my reading for pleasure. The fact that I have a positive attitude towards it also makes me more likely to read the more intricate, informative texts on topics of interest, or use, to me.
      I actually like Shakespeare… I think their ability to read texts and retain information is of paramount importance. I also know that my children are unique among their friends in that they actually READ the required books instead of cliff notes. Their aversion to reading makes them not even try! I don’t want them to stop teaching higher level reading through more intricate texts, but would like them to include one or two choices that would encourage students to like reading. I don’t think the two ideas should be mutually exclusive. That was my main point.. We can do both….

      • Jane Doe Says:

        I see what you’re saying, and I agree. For independent reading students should be encouraged to find materials that are interesting to them, whether they’re magazines or newspapers or novels. My fear is that in some instances we’ve shifted our focus away from reading as a discipline for comprehension and understanding to reading solely for pleasure. To me that does our career bound students a total disservice as they won’t be prepared for the real world where they’ll be expected to read and understand complicated legal documents, nor does it prepare our college bound students for college and they’ll be expected to drag themselves through some rather boring texts that convey crucial information for their chose degree, and they won’t have Cliff’s notes to help them.

  3. Tina frasard Says:

    I can see that as well.. But I think the shift occurs long before high school and the high school teachers are having to scramble to play catch up. Which may answer my question as to why there is not more balance! It is so very different than when I was in school…

  4. mom Says:

    Most of the books mentioned above are required reading in PWC. My kids have read Call of the Wild, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Rikki Tikki Tavi, The Telltale Heart, Diary of Anne Frank, the Outsiders (my favorite!) in Middle School among others. In High School they tackled Frankenstein, Canterbury Tales, MacBeth, Ulysses, Wuthering Heights, Hamlet, Huck Funn, the Great Gatsby (they are working on that one this month), The Invisible Man, The Glass Menagerie, The Road Not Taken (still have that one memorized from 20 years ago), Death of a Salesman, Raisen in the Sun, Walden, The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies, Tale of Two Cities, Flander’s Fields, The Miracle Worker, Romeo, To Kill a Mockingbird (another favorite), Animal Farm, Much Ado about Nothing….and many more “newer classics” that I cannot remember. They have Shakespeare every year of high school but different teachers may pick different plays.

    • Tina frasard Says:

      We’re probably just not there yet I guess… Mine are only in 9th and 10th… They read Outsiders in California.. Here they’ve read Oedipus Rex, Antigone, The Life of Pi, Anthem, ender’s Game, a Tale of Two Cities, Night, The Bread Givers, the Odyssey, and To Kill a Mockingbird. ( I do have to admit I was impressed when my son caught the joke in a reference to Lenny when watching a sitcom the other day.). Still to read this year: forbidden city, cyrano de Bergerac, count of monte cristo, and things fall apart. And they have done the yearly Shakespeare. My 10th grader has to read a book that has been banned and we are going to try to get Huck Finn in that way. Hopefully they will read more of the ones you mentioned as a junior and a senior.


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