Recently English and Spanish teacher Phil Morgan shared in a beautiful essay “How I Got Middle Schoolers to Read Great Books Again.” I’ll spill his secret: Only assigning enduring, high-quality classic literature to his pupils.
The societal consensus indicates that kids don’t read anymore. Perhaps my journey would be over before it even started, and I’d retreat bitterly into the banal world of handouts and the preachy, multicultural eight-page stories found in most textbooks. Maybe I’d burn out, as so many teachers do, and return to the river.
Two years later, I was strolling through the halls when the art teacher pulled me aside. ‘I’ve never seen the kids so excited about reading,’ she said. She was right. My students relished books. I had seen them chant for me to read to them. Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver shocked them, as good dystopias often do. One student was in near hysterics at Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, his new favorite.
I witnessed them blush when Tom Sawyer does his cartwheels in Becky Thatcher’s front yard. The boys most definitely saw Tom in themselves when they show off at lunch and on the playground. They were enamored with Kenneth Grahame’s Mr. Toad. One diminutive sixth-grader insisted I call her ‘Toad’ for the rest of the school year. The seventh grade laughed loudly when the Pigs drunkenly galloped around Animal Farm and grew very angry when they sent Boxer to the glue factory. The boys loudly sang ‘Beasts of England’ in their bunks on their class trip.
You’ve got to read the whole thing. As a parting, added shot, let’s also take a moment to recall what Philippians admonishes us: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” It is in this spirit that at Redeemer Classical we only assign children books worthy of a human being’s full time and attention.
There’s nothing wrong with a little book junk food, of course, nor other harmless entertainment. We all need a break sometimes. It’s just that we don’t think parents send their precious children made in God’s image to us to get junk food they can easily find themselves and enjoy during kids’ copious free time.