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September 13, 2007

’Fuzzy Reading’

Over at NRO, Gilbert T. Sewall draws the connection between bad teaching methods and substandard reading materials in schools:

Last year, New York City parents objected to reading books put in their local school’s sixth-grade classroom library. They complained about Am I Blue?, a collection of stories about gay teenagers, and You Hear Me?, an anthology of poems written by teenage boys. You Hear Me? contained a ditty called I Hate School that included [excessive profanity].

The New York Daily News gave the event headlines, and the principal removed the books. But the incident only scratched the surface of a much broader problem nationwide. Public schools and students are being bombarded with texts of questionable quality, many of them coming from an unexpected source, the Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

For many educators, not just in New York City but nationwide, the Project and its “process method” is a creed. It is a beacon to teachers all over the nation, drawing on a method that departs from traditional content and language skills. The system employs trendy content, stresses children’s own “voices,” and writing as a “process.”

I wrote a while back that I did some research into these teaching methods while working for Jennifer Marshall. (Which reminds me, I have an interview with Jennifer about her new book at the main site that I forgot to mention earlier.) It seemed, and seems, incredible to me that teachers could be persuaded to believe that "surround the children with books and talk all day long about how wonderful books are," as directly opposed to "teach them what the letters are and how they go together to make words," could be expected to create classrooms full of dedicated readers. But it's not at all incredible that such philosophies, used long enough, could lead to students who can't get any further in their reading than the kind of book described above, and teachers and librarians who think that's just fine.

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Gina, you wrote:

"It seemed, and seems, incredible to me that teachers could be persuaded to believe that "surround the children with books and talk all day long about how wonderful books are," ... But it's not at all incredible that such philosophies, used long enough, could lead to students who can't get any further in their reading than the kind of book described above, and teachers and librarians who think that's just fine."

It seems that's exactly what those derelict-in-their-duty teachers want.

If the kids can't read and comprehend more than drivel and don't know how to think for themselves, then they will be easy pawns for all manner of propaganda shoved down their throats.

I'm thankful for parents and teachers who refuse to let that happen. I'm thankful for organizations like PFM/Breakpoint that have programs to develop sound minds and a healthy "world-view".


I read the article you cited and quoted and it seems to me the majority of the focus is on teaching methods that are not "tried and true"; which the author supposes might be the cause of subpar writing skills. The references to these books in particular are only supposed to be one part of the actual problem (and no direct link is provided).

I searched for the book "Am I Blue?" and although I have not read it yet, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY has this to say:

For the first-ever anthology of YA fiction devoted to lesbian and gay themes, Bauer (On My Honor) has assembled original stories by a stellar list of popular children's and YA authors [both gay and straight], among them M. E. Kerr, Nancy Garden, William Sleator, Jane Yolen, C. S. Adler and Bruce Coville. With subjects ranging from first love to coming out, self-discovery to homophobia, the collection offers an eclectic mix of voices. Newbery winner Lois Lowry, for example, contributes "Holding," a poignant tale of a high school student who confides in his best friend after the death of his gay father's lover, while Francesca Lia Block weighs in with the wonderfully quirky "Winnie and Teddy," in which a teenager comes out to his girlfriend during a momentous road trip to San Francisco. Perhaps the book's most powerful moments are provided by Jacqueline Woodson's simmering "Slipping Away," a painful look at one girl's discovery that there are some tests that a friendship simply cannot withstand; and Gregory Maguire's "The Honorary Shepherds," which deftly employs the language of a film treatment to describe two mixed-race students who collaborate on a school video project. Honest, well-written and true to life, these stories will do much to address the gap in gay literature for teens.

As I said, I haven't read this book, but it seems like a personal objection to the acceptance of gay people might be clouding an ability to evaluate this work on its literary merits. From what I've read, it seems very powerful. And the collection of authors looks very impressive. Guess I have yet another book to read. Thanks;)


Teachers often do not get to choose how to teach nor what books to have their children read.

This is typically determined by the district, or even the federals, with NCLB.

The teachers might not know any better, I have observed that college teaching programs do not produce well-rounded, educated citizens.

But even for the teachers who are well-taught (or self-taught), remember that in most instances, their hands are tied.

School boards and administrations, and State and Federal departments of education,and of course the NEA are the people responsible.

Steve (SBK)

On my understanding, artistic/literary merit does not equal either moral or educational merit (though often they do overlap).

Terry Janzer

I would have to agree with Steve (SBK). There are many well-written books, well-acted films, well-performed songs, etc. That feature misguided worldviews and morally objectionable content. Talent, sadly, does not equal moral integrity nor even basic good taste.
Reminds me of the time (long ago) that I tried to convince my father that Led Zeppelin should be appreciated for their musical abilities - after all, it takes a lot of talent to play like that. When he finally agreed to listen critically to a Zeppelin piece, what did I pick? The Lemon Song. The result was predictable. (Sic transit gloria mundi)


jamesr - what is put into the children's hands to read is of PARAMOUNT importance because these children are our future. Time is inelastic, what we say "yes" to as a result supplants something else. This is not a case of anti-gay bias. This is a fight for TEACHING OUR CHILDREN TO READ AND THINK. Research the NEA's own stated purpose. Look at what they THEMSELVES say they intend to do. They do not say that they will teach children to read, write, do math and think for themselves so that they will be productive, happy citizens, parents and people. They THEMSELVES have a social/socialist agenda which has more in common with PFLAG than it does with the PTA. Their mission is clear and anyone who ignores it, ignores it at the nation's peril and the peril of the children. The children are put AT RISK in their very schools just as much as if we had handed them over to a predator. They want pro-homosexual, anti-family, pro-baby killing, anti-American books in the schools and this supplants Shakespeare, Paine, Adams, and Jefferson. My child should be reading the writings of GREAT MINDS, not the infantile musings of selfgratifying ingnorants.

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