Here is a link to a newspaper article that made me angry.
It involved some school in Queensland which had had this new and original, brilliant idea to get kids reading - they were going to do twenty minutes a day of reading for pleasure! Well, not exactly reading stuff that you might want to read. You’re not allowed to read non fiction or graphic novels, only novels, presumably of the kind the school approves. The article showed a picture of a smiling young lady reading in front of a bay of books that might be in a school library, but looks to me like a good quality classroom library. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, as the picture was not from the school in the article, not even a school in the same state. What does this suggest to you?
I sent a letter to the paper, below, as so far the paper has not published it. They still might, but I suspect not. Too late now.
As a retired teacher librarian and a children’s writer, I read with interest the article about the Queensland school’s “bold plan to get teenagers reading”. I wonder if the school has a library, run by a professional librarian, and suspect it doesn’t(the photo with the article is not from this school) or it wouldn’t be the Principal trying to find ways to get kids reading, it would be the librarian. And the librarian would have come up with something better than “twenty minutes a day reading for pleasure and it’s not allowed to be non fiction”, something many students love, or graphic novels, something else they enjoy and which is not just another name for “comic book”. They are often complex and even difficult reading. I can understand why they would ban class texts from the daily read, but not these. As someone who ran a school library for many years, I know what they borrowed and what invariably ended up on the overdue lists, and which books were falling apart from reading. A library professional would have advised the Principal better than this. And it’s nothing new, sorry! Schools here have been doing it for years, often with books from the library, before many schools started closing them down to save money and because “they’re doing it all on the Internet now, aren’t they?”
I suppose the daily read is better than nothing and I hope it is working, but a truly bold plan would have been to spend some money on a new library, if they don’t have one, and a qualified, enthusiastic professional to run it.
If they are going to publish one of my letters, I often get a call from the letters editor asking me to “declare my interest”, but not this time. In any case, remembering this, I made sure I did declare my interest in the very first sentence, so I can only assume they aren’t going to print it.
So, let’s discuss it here. I suspect the school in the article doesn’t have a proper library. I’d be very surprised if they do! Maybe one of those small collections of books with an integration aide running it half a lunchtime a day. But not a librarian, or they would have asked her/him for advice.
That means that someone without any qualifications or passion for reading has come up with something that sounds good to them, and this same someone has definite Opinions on what is acceptable. How is it reading for pleasure if it doesn’t give everyone a chance to read something they enjoy?
I have no doubt the well meaning principal discussed it at a meeting, either with staff in general or with a school committee. It does take time to organise your timetable to fit in even this minimal program, so I understand why they aren’t doing it right away. But they have given themselves about the same amount of time it took to re-arrange the entire school timetable for the massive literacy program my school does(it works out as 200 minutes a week, or four periods), which involves actual teaching, not just reading(the kids do get about fifteen minutes a period), so why not do more? Why not, in fact, get a library going, with a professional who can make sure the kids have somewhere to go at lunchtime and help them choose books just right for them? They can still have the twenty minute thing, and the kids won’t have to bring books from home(what if their home is one that doesn’t have books?), and can bring books they will enjoy. Doing it this way is simply lazy.
And then you call the newspapers to brag about it!
It also irritates me that the journalist thinks this is new and worth writing about. I guess she has to do something for the education column every week and pounces on anything that sounds vaguely interesting, but she really should have done her homework. Plenty of schools are already doing this, including one where a friend of mine used to work, years ago. He even told me that he and some of his students were amused to find themselves all reading the same new Harry Potter book. That should tell you how long it has been going.
When I think about how much I did as a teacher librarian, with my tiny budget, how many kids I looked after and took to writers’ festivals and organised voting for favourite books in the Inky Awards and the YABBAs and gave the chance to interview their favourite authors on this blog, I can’t help being furious, both with this principal and with the newspaper that thought this story was news.
Screaming right now... AAARGH!