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Sweet sixteen... - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Sweet sixteen...
My inner child is sixteen years old today

My inner child is sixteen years old!

Life's not fair! It's never been fair, but while
adults might just accept that, I know
something's gotta change. And it's gonna
change, just as soon as I become an adult and
get some power of my own.

How Old is Your Inner Child?
brought to you by Quizilla

Gakked from jiminyc.

Okay, 'nuff quizzes for now. Not news. My inner child has been sixteen since I was ten. :)

And in the spirit of adolescence, I present a rant on the abuse of teenagers' out-of-school time. (I work with teens--I'm a librarian--love them, and feel exceptionally sorry for them on a frequent basis.)

First target: Summer reading requirements

I'm certainly in favor of reading over the summer,and I don't even mind the concept of teachers in September expecting students to give a rundown of five or six books that they've read. But giving specific assignments of books that the kids have zero interest in reading? I don't know how many times a list of dreary books has been shoved in front of me, with a desperate request to tell a student which is the shortest.

Here's a thought: In June, tell them to find five stories that bliss them out, and explain in September what was good about them. Let reading be, you know--fun. Summer is the time to think of reading as something that can be done for amusement and diversion, and that's the best habit in the world to encourage. So bring on Zane and Omar Tyree, let 'em have Tolkien and Stephen King, enjoy a fall report on the latest Buffy and Star Trek tie-ins, invite Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling into the inner sanctum and have a bash. Set them loose in a fanfic archive if that's their thing. Heck, take a look at some of the graphic novels out there--aficionados can read them with astoundingly good critical eyes, and isn't that a big part of what these reading assignments are meant to support?

The point is, if you want them to read, then give them time read what they want, while still having time to enjoy other pleasures during their holidays. They have as much right to a vacation as we do. Summer reading should be a great time to associate reading with pleasure instead of work. Why in the world do people who allegedly want to encourage reading want so badly to disassociate the two?

Second target: Forced community service

A few years ago, a book called 13th Gen came out, just as these popular forced community service programs were coming into vogue. A teenager commented in the margins, "Isn't that what they make criminals do?"

Volunteering is a wonderful thing. My mother is a volunteer docent in a museum, and I'm quite proud of how much she gives of herself. I did some volunteer time working in a library when I was twelve. And people who volunteer in soup kitchens or community centers or any of the hundreds of things to which time can be donated are quite admirable.

Which is to say, nothing I'm saying is a slam on volunteering as a good use of time, including for teenagers.

But when it becomes a condition for graduation, it ceases to be wonderful, and becomes nothing but another assignment to be survived and forgotten. Worse, it becomes a form of forced labor, and last I knew, there were laws about that sort of thing dating back to the 1860s.

But the major problem with community service requirements is that they sap teens' time in a lot of ways. That time could be used for volunteering for a group that the teen personally enjoys, or for holding a (gasp) job. I couldn't find a job as a teen, but all of my cousins did, and I can't imagine when they would have had time to work twenty hours a week in check-out (getting a bit of money ready to help with college expenses, also, lest we forget, an important value to learn) while also being expected to volunteer for several more hours, and do their homework, and participate in sports and other extracurricular activities of their choice.

You know, choice?

Ultimately, this is what I'm afraid is being taken away. This is the time of life when you're supposed to start sorting out what your values are, and part of that is having the freedom to make some choices about free time. As a teen, I participated in Odyssey of the Mind, drama club, band, chorus, a local theater group, a multi-age regional writing group, and an informal little writing club with my friends. Other people were on several sports teams, school government, service clubs, etc. The point was, this was when we really started to differentiate, to learn "I am this, but I am not that." This is an important thing to learn, part of learning who you are and what's important to you. The more "free" time is spoken for, the less of it there is to make these discoveries.


And if the point is to make kids realize the value of community service, making it something that is forced on them against their will seems to be a singularly ineffective way to do it. Why not have an extracurricular group, like Key Club, that makes all the volunteering opportunities available, and whose members are publically recognized and so on? Wouldn't good incentives be more effective than "Volunteer or else"?

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ladyaeryn From: ladyaeryn Date: January 3rd, 2004 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)


Eurgh, I remember having that required-reading list given to me the summer before my senior year AP Lit class - I did pick the two shortest ones on there, and while they weren't excruciating(Asimov's "Foundation" and Clarke's "Childhood's End") I can think of about a dozen books I would easily rather have read. We were supposed to do lengthy, thoughtful analyses on them for a grade, and you know what? That was a big lie, which in retrospect made the experience more dreary. :P Most people at my second high school (where I got this assignment) were already the type that whine over being assigned to read 30 pages in a weekend, so really, isn't it counterproductive to force them to use their relaxation time to read specific titles they're likely going to find mind-numbing? (After all, in classes like AP Lit all you're going to be doing the whole school year anyway is reading and and analyzing the hell out of largely mind-numbing stuff.)

Well, I can't complain too much about Not-at-all-Free-Will-Volunteering my first high school required: two summers of volunteering for the summer reading program at the library led to me getting a job there that's about as good a one as I could hope for given my education level. :) I also didn't mind helping out the kids in the community, which I would definitely not have done on my own. But I remember being resentful that it was a requirement for my graduation: if anything, volunteering ought to be something rewarded, not required. Let the students who don't want to volunteer graduate the regular way, but those who choose to do something extra like volunteering get the added distinction to their diploma.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: January 3rd, 2004 05:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't think they even bothered to pretend our summer reading assignments were supposed to "encourage reading." They were homework for next year's English class.


Well, wait. The ones for (before) my freshman year of high school, those were supposed to be fun. The teacher provided something like a two-page, two-column list of books, all of which she had read and thought were good and many of which were actually very enjoyable.

Generally, they were just homework.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2004 02:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, but in theory, homework has some educational purpose. I admit, I never fully grasped what it was--it seems to me that once you've mastered a concept, re-doing twenty math problems with exactly the same concept is a bit of a waste of time.

I think the theory of assigning reading homework has something to do with making sure people are reading and paying some critical attention to it. In theory.

Of course, in practice, it's being used as a bludgeon to say "You have no free time! You are at our beck and call!"

As someone who loves reading, this attitude makes me weep.
persephone_kore From: persephone_kore Date: January 4th, 2004 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
We were supposed to do different types of assignments (for the ones I mentioned where we had more range of choice), presumably to get us to practice thinking about what we read, and in the other cases we generally were going to analyze the book in class. (This succeeded in making me rather sick of some books I had previously enjoyed, although for some reason voluntarily spending entirely too much time reading discussions and analysis of HP hasn't had the same effect.) I never found the just-reading assignments to take up too much time, though to quizzes on fiddly details on the first day of class I say: bah. On the other hand, I read moderately fast. I think the idea of those summer reading assignments was that we should use part of our summer so they'd have more time to cover what they wanted during the school year. One of the reasons I admire the math teacher I had for three years was that he was, I believe, the first in my experience with the school system to set out a syllabus and actually cover everything he meant to.

I assume that the reason for assigning particular books or types thereof that the students would never choose freely is, again in theory, a broadening of experience, and this probably has some merits; I also strongly suspect, however, that reading material for English classes is chosen for how much you can analyze it and possibly in some cases for showcasing a depressing worldview. (To this day I have no appreciation for A Prayer for Owen Meany as something I'd want to read on my own, but I greatly appreciated the fact that it was very easy to blither on about for a reading journal. Also, I want to shake the narrator for apparently thinking Mary's husband Joseph was the only one in the Bible but I think that might just be me. On the other hand, while I don't think I will ever adore A Farewell to Arms, I really liked this one quote about love in it, and should look it back up, and for the sake of that line I'm glad to have read it.)

Of course, in practice, it's being used as a bludgeon to say "You have no free time! You are at our beck and call!"

As someone who loves reading, this attitude makes me weep.

Agreed. :/ And as someone who never had that much appreciation for most homework in the first place, it also drove me personally up the wall for some years.
elucreh From: elucreh Date: January 4th, 2004 12:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hah! If everyone had as much sense as you, the world would be a much, much, MUCH happier place!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 4th, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

I keep trying to tell people that, but no one listens...
akilika From: akilika Date: January 12th, 2004 11:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh. My older sister's school had a way of including community service hours in required courses. That city wasn't much a fan of it. :) Even my school gave me half the neccessary hours for completing middle school . . .

I tried to argue the point of forced labour with my art teacher, but she said that kids aren't going to willingly do these sorts of things on their own--that it's the duty of adults to make sure they get these experiences. I couldn't find the words to respond beyond saying that that wasn't fair (which basically means you lose the argument, I've found; life isn't fair, after all), the attitude . . . didn't exactly sit well with me, for some reason. I guess I just didn't like the idea that other people could decide which experiences were good for me . . .

Although I still haven't volunteered. I had intended to volunteer a few summers ago, to the library--but I didn't. I should. If people can volunteer around school, volunteering around work shouldn't be a problem. I don't even have a job, yet . . .

Reading requirements. I never had a huge problem with those, but then, I skipped it junior year. It's only one part of the grade, and only really throws you off at first. I've never both been given the choice and had to write or talk about my selection--though I remember I did a few book reports like that in elementary school. Teacher got annoyed because I used Dr. Seuss books. Heh . . .

However, I can get behind the position. Just because I'm going to slagg off and read what I want to doesn't mean that such requirements should be in place. Reading is not just for people who can read dry and often confusing texts . . . and seeing as there is just so much selection out there, people should be encouraged to find out what's right for them.

By the way . . . I've read a few of your entries and liked them a lot, and in addition aspire to perhaps become a librarian. (Lacking much knowledge of what this entails/requires keeps this to a "perhaps", mostly.) Do you mind if I friend you?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 14th, 2004 06:41 am (UTC) (Link)
I tried to argue the point of forced labour with my art teacher, but she said that kids aren't going to willingly do these sorts of things on their own--that it's the duty of adults to make sure they get these experiences. I couldn't find the words to respond

There are no words. Eeeesh.

A kid who won't do it on his or her own doesn't want to do it. End of story. It certainly shouldn't be forced, at least by a public school. Some people serve the community better by staying home and honing writing talent, or playing a sport, or working at a checkout counter. Sheesh.

BTW, librarianship is a good career. Not exactly a lucrative one, but I enjoy it. And sure, friend me. I'll friend you back.
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