Friday, June 4, 2010

Descartes Philosophy Not Enough for A Medal

I know I shouldn't be surprised..but the concept bothers me anew at the end of the school year. Yesterday I sat in an audience of adults cheering as though their children had just discovered a cure for AIDS. All I could think of is, "What in the world are we clapping about?" I'm talking about the Million-Word Reader awards.
For those of you fortunate enough not to know what this is, it's a reading campaign started in the US many years back in which children set a goal to read so many words and then try to reach or surpass that goal. There is a complex formula for figuring out how many words are in a book--or there's even a website which will give you the word count.
I protested when the idea was introduced at our school, but was told, 'We're just are trying to find a way to encourage children to read." A noble goal. Still I had my doubts which were confirmed when--more than a few times--I saw my daughter looking through her bookshelf, picking out books and dismissing them NOT because of theme or content or even an ugly jacket cover, but because "they don't have enough words."
Trying to keep an open mind about this campaign, I went looking for research which proves the Million Word Reader encourages reading. I mean after all these years there should be some kind of study. I couldn't find anything other than enthusiastic sites which suggested how your school might advertise the campaign through posters, competitions, award nights. I kept thinking, "What are we doing to this younger generation?"
This ridiculous campaign which has swept the nation strikes me as the Cultural Revolution of Literature. In fact, I can see down the line books with few words being burned as “useless," poetry being banned altogether, Descartes philosophy "I think therefore I am." reduced to a mere five words--or by then it might be considered 18 letters--still not enough for a medal. And all the while we sit there clapping.
Am I just being a fuddy-duddy unable to grasp a new teaching method? Does anyone know of research showing that advertising word count is a better way to get kids to read? If not, does anyone have thoughts on how to combat this disaster?
Book of the Week: After the Workshop by John McNally is a novel about a man who joined the highly revered Iowa Writer's Workshop and then stagnated, in the meantime becoming a media escort. It's fun and funny.


Teresa LeYung Ryan said...

Hi, Jana,

I enjoyed reading your post "Descartes Philosophy Not Enough for A Medal" Also, I wanted to let you know how the annual McBurney-Lin Christmas card delights me every winter. I moved though and have a p.o. box address; I'll email it to you. Cheers to Jana & family!
Writing Career Coach Teresa LeYung Ryan says: "Reach out, not stress out, when building your writer's name."

Jana McBurney-Lin said...

Great to hear from you. Thanks,

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

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Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

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Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

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Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
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