November 13, 2019 | #FliptheScript

Flip the Script – A Teacher’s Perspective

by Summer Rosario

“At least they’re reading!”

This is a phrase I hear thrown around, typically to justify the selection of a Captain Underpants-type book.  I understand the heart behind it; when a student is struggling to read, it feels like a victory when they sit down with a book (any book!) and choose to read on their own.

But should we choose literature for children with this mindset?  I’ve observed many classrooms where time-tested classics have been disregarded because they are too long, too obscure, too irrelevant to students’ daily lives.  They are replaced with graphic novels and more relatable, digestible stories.  

It’s true that students may put up less of a fight when asked to read these books.  But at what cost? Human beings are imitators by nature. We become what we behold. We must be thoughtful about who we are holding up for our children to imitate.

In my sixth grade class, I see clearly the effect that characters in good books have on my students’ lives.  The first book we read together is King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  Quickly, these characters become very alive and real in our classroom.  I hear students using “Sir Kay” as a derogatory phrase or describing noble things as “Arthurian.”

In class, we spend time delving into the inner workings of these characters.  What are their strengths? Where are they flawed? How have they grown? We discuss Gawain’s self-control and Launcelot’s lack of it.  King’s Arthur’s responsibility and Morgana’s selfishness. Sir Gareth’s patience and Sir Kay’s impulsiveness.

Slowly and steadily, as students become practiced in analyzing characters this way, they begin to apply the same lens to themselves.  Where am I imitating the best of these characters?  Where am I imitating the worst? 

Recently, a student was trying to blame his mistake on a peer who had tempted him.  All I had to say was, “Remember when Gawain was faced with temptation. What did he do?”  Instantly, I saw the realization dawn in this student’s face; yes, there had been real temptation.  But he realized that he’d had the choice of whether to give in or to resist – just like Gawain had.

Good books provide a framework through which to see ourselves more clearly.  They are powerful tools to propel our students forward in developing the maturity and self-awareness they need to become a certain type of person.

We need to flip the script here.  Should we choose books for our children because they are entertaining and easily relatable?  Or because they have something worthy of imitation? Should we pat ourselves on the back by reading books that address the latest social trends?  Or should we immerse our students in texts that have stood the test of time?

Literature must be thoughtfully curated in a cohesive way, scaffolded for a child’s development of virtue.  Yes, we want all students reading – but we also want them surrounded and enchanted by characters who will help in their formation.