Students Write the Darndest Things–Literacy and Reading

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Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. The past few weeks have been hard on me and the students. Utah has decided to redo their state testing to make it adapative and align more with the Common Core. Which, of course, has caused chaos and panic on every level. And a new part: every year, every grade will have a written portion. 90 minutes to read sources and write both an informative essay and an argumentative essay. CRAZY!

So, we’ve been practicing our butts off lately, putting everything else on the back burner.
My 8th graders have been introduced to Fahrenheit 451 last week. We focused on the background of the book–what was going on in the U.S. when it was published and the issue of censorship. We talked about McCarthy and the Red Scare. To solidify that in my students’ brains, we played a game of Mafia. 
Remember, I only have 17 8th graders, so it was pretty manageable. They lived in McCarthy land and everyone was a Patriot. The “murderers” were Communists bent on killing patriots. The “cops” were CSI agents. As with all games, they got really into it. They were blaming a lot of people based on looks and “sly smiles” and sitting next to those who died. 
During the debriefing, we really made the connection between the accusations and the repercussions of the game to the Red Scare–just about the same!
We also then talked about Ray Bradbury’s thoughts and feelings on books vs new technologies (like TV) and censorship (which was pretty big during that time). He discussed a quote of his: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

I asked the students to write reflections answering these questions: Do you like to read? Why? Do you agree with Ray Bradbury or not, why? Here are their responses:
“Is it good to read? Yes, it is good to read, but only when using it to benefit or entertain yourself or others.”
“I think he is wrong. Today’s culture is just fine. It’s fine because we all haven’t loved reading in the first place. Even in his time people haven’t liked reading.”
“I hate books. I find book boring. there is only 1 book I’ve ever liked. It was an adventurous book of survival. the name was Hatchet. I think reading is important i my life because you can give my sister a book and she’ll shut up. I think Ray Bradbury is dead wrong. Now with movies you an watch a documentary in half the time it takes to read a book. We can find questions instantly. All we have to do is pull out my phone.”
There were very few who agreed with Ray Bradbury. Sad, but to be expected of kids today.
What do you think? Are we losing our culture because people (no matter the age) don’t read anymore?

Tayler is a work at home mom. She does free lance articles and dabbles in graphic design and virtual assisting for bloggers. She spent 3 years as a history and English teacher. Her passions are her husband, two children, history, reading, nature, and her Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • Interesting that the one student pointed out that the only book he ever liked was Hatchet. I remember reading that as a kid. I don't think reading is dead, though perhaps it's decreasing in popularity. I wouldn't necessarily say that "everyone" ought to read–different people have different skills and loves. My little brother doesn't read for fun or willingly–but he's an engineering student, works 20 hours a week as a calculus tutor at his college, and has an obviously numbers-oriented mind, and is very skilled in that area. Sure, some engineers could probably read the classics too and converse eloquently about literature…but not everyone has to be good at everything. Still, I hope that reading always remains a skill and value for many people!