Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dumbing down?

I know educators mean well, but have they really thought the issue out?

I recently ran across an “adaptation” of The Wind in the Willows that nearly made me throw up. Sentences were shortened and converted to simpler grammatical forms; shorter words were substituted for longer (and more poetic and more precise) words; and the text was rendered so flat and lifeless that I don’t believe any self-respecting third-grader would WANT to read it. The Wind in the Willows is ALREADY a children’s book, and so what if the language is a bit challenging? That didn’t stop the Harry Potter books from being devoured by millions of youngsters.

In fact, researchers have found that reading complex language such as Shakespeare’s causes the brain to become more active and engaged, while reading less complex language triggers much less brain activity. I have found with my own students that when I give them something complicated to read, they generally work harder and get more out of the work.

Yes, there are those who argue that giving students something difficult to read may frustrate them and make them give up on the struggle, to the point, even, of hating school and everything about it. Thus, books should be “dumbed down” to make them more accessible.

I disagree. I believe that giving students something challenging to read will give them a greater feeling of accomplishment when they discover it isn’t really “too hard” after all. And being bored with school work—rather than being frustrated with it—is a major reason students disengage with education and drop out of school.

Take, for example, this sentence from the original The Wind in the Willows:
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely NOTHING—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

And this from the adaptation:
“If you’re doing it in a boat, it’s the best time ever!”

Which of these is more likely to benefit a third-grader?

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