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
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
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
“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?
Labels: fiction, grammar, observations, rants, rhetoric, teaching, writing