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The Monsters We Create: Project 180, Day 63


It’s not a big book. It’s only a 116 pages. Some of my kids will read it in one night. Many will finish it long before its scheduled due date. It is a powerful book. It grabs hold and won’t let go. It first grabbed me in my political science class as required reading my freshman year in college. It has clung to me since. And now it is required reading in my class. And just as it took hold of me nearly thirty years ago, I hope the same for my kids as we seek to explore this dark chapter in human history through Elie’s eyes.

But, despite my hopes, despite my attempts to motivate and inspire kids, despite its relative short length, some will not read it. That’s reality. That’s truth. And the why’s behind the truth are different than one might think. Still, reconciling any such truth is not easy for an English teacher. Should I take it personally? Is it my job to be a cheerleader for books? If they don’t read it, is it my fault? If they don’t read it, am I a bad teacher? The list goes on. And for me the reality of kids’ not reading the texts I assign has been a career-long burden. And I am not alone. Other teachers speak and write of this. Yesterday, I came across Sarah Zerwin’s post  Procedural Display and Fake Reading: My Story of Coming to Teaching Literature. Kids fake read all the time, even–maybe especially–our honors and AP kids. The struggle for all is real.

So what does one do? For a time–too long a time–I would punish kids with a final test that would adversely affect their grades if they didn’t read. And while this got some to comply out of fear, for many all it did was invite more diligent digging into the worlds of Sparknotes and Cliff’s Notes. Or worse, it simply caused kids to shutdown, caused kids to hate reading even more. For time eternal, I have tried and will continue to try–today as a matter of course–to be a cheerleader, attempting to motivate and inspire kids to read. My latest trick is a “Memory Pledge” with Night. I ask kids to sign a pledge indicating that they will be witness by reading Elie’s memoir. It will work for some but not all.

This year, just yesterday, I encountered a new-to-me situation. “I hate required reading.” “I don’t like being told what to read.” Okay, the statements themselves are not entirely new–I’ve heard them before. But the speakers are new. They are both readers–avid readers. Neither was being disrespectful; each was being honest. And in their honesty I found both surprise and dilemma.

Surprise because I would not have expected it from either if I had been asked to select the kids who would likely not read the assigned text. Again, they are among my most avid readers. Obviously, I am still “learning” my kids. Like onions, they.

Dilemma because I face a philosophical crisis. I stand atop Mount Commitment. I preach all the time about my desire to create a culture absent of compliance. I want kids to do things because they want to, not because I made them. In the past I have called it the “true do.” Back in June, in my summer series, “Reflection’s Reality” I posted  The Dilemma of Do.   l talked about the many ways I have discovered that kids “do” things from my years in the classroom. And though I have been distancing myself from a culture of compliance for years, the last two years with Project 180 have fully severed that connection, and I now live in a culture of commitment–by my own hand. I have created my own monster. But he is not an unkind monster. I love him. I nourish him. I protect him. And if doing so, makes me guilty of malpractice, I then stand ready, shielding him from the clubs and pitchforks of the advancing mob. I have no choice. He is mine. I own him, monster or no.

So, today, when I roll out the red carpet for Night, I will address this with my kids. I will have an honest conversation with them. I will acknowledge the reality. I will be lead my best cheers. I will conjure compunction with my “Memory Pledge.” But I will also call my monster from the shadows. He will lurk no more. I will tell the kids that it is up to them as to whether they read Night. I will not make them. I will not penalize them. They have an opportunity. They have a choice. It is their learning. But with ownership comes responsibility. They, then, too, are creators. And they, too, will have to be stewards to their own creations, their own monsters.

Today’s Trail

Along today’s trail we will…

…begin with Smiles and Frowns.

…finish analyzing Elie’s speech.

…begin reading (or not reading) Night.

…reflect in our Journey Journals.

…end with a Sappy Sy Rhyme.

Happy Thursday, all.

Do. Reflect. Do Better.





6 Replies to “The Monsters We Create: Project 180, Day 63”

  • Monte, Have you read WHOLE NOVELS by Ariel Sacks yet? or… BOOK LOVE by Penny Kittle? These are both books that have helped me when it comes to reading novels in ELA. I’ve been on that journey, and I believe these two books are the reason we now only have one required novel. It’s THE OUTSIDERS, and we don’t read it until the end of the year, and kids have so many choices when they DO read it (for example – each makes his/her own schedule). Also, there’s this video that puts many novels (depending on the teacher) into perspective: Thanks for sharing this very key conflict happening across the world in literature classes! The struggle is real!

    • I have read neither, but I will certainly check them out. I’m always looking for ways to do better. And your recommendations carry much weight with me. Thank you for chiming in, Joy. Thank you for the resources.

  • I’ve read many blog posts this school year about reading, choice reading, fake reading, assigned reading, etc. The same, and vital, question keeps popping up: what can we do to help create a space that encourages students to flourish as readers, thinkers and creators. Other key questions also arise: do we need to read the “classics?” Scott Bayer’s “But What if They Don’t Read All the Words?” resonated deeply with me as well.
    This post has also hit me hard, making me think about what I do in the classroom.
    Great post.

  • I identify with so many of these feelings and questions, Monte. Allow me to offer some encouragement in an attempt to bolster both our spirits as we continue to wrestle with the task. In his book, “Blue Like Jazz,” storyteller, Donald Miller writes, “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” This quote has allowed me to release myself from some of the pressure (not the task) of teaching and enabled me to be myself more authentically–in this case, a lover of story and reading. You share evidence of being authentic and showing students the way every day. What more could they ask of you? Keep walking the path, my friend. Thank you, as always, for sharing.

    • Scott! Long time no hear. Thank you for chiming in. Always appreciate and value your perspective and support. Hope your year is going well. Glad you are out here walking the walk with me.

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