When I was a child, I had to walk 5 miles in the snow barefoot to get to school…

Hello friends and fellow bloggers, especially those from the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by http://www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/. This week’s blog is going to be a little different. Instead of taking a passage from a children’s book and reflecting on how it relates to my life, I’d like to write about my thoughts on reading and writing that occurred to me while reading Beatrix Potter’s The Complete Tales.

For those of you who do not know me, I am 32 years old, and I definitely did not walk 5 miles to school in my bare feet as a child. Nevertheless, I have recently started to have nostalgic impulses. I know 32 is a little young for this tendency to begin, but I guess I am starting to feel old. When something crazy like another shooting spree happens, I think things like “what is this world coming to?” I know that is an obvious thought, but I don’t think it’s one I would have had even ten years ago because….well, you feel a little more invincible in your 20s than you do in your 30s.  

I have just entered the reading/writing blogging world, but I noticed that we have our own reading and writing version of “what is the world coming to?” that so many parents and teachers struggle with. The two I hear most often are: are we losing the battle to foster a love of reading when kids today only want to watch tv and play video games? Another is can this generation write when the vast majority of the writing they do comes in the format of tweets and texts?

Generally speaking, I think these doom and gloom concerns of a totally illiterate society are overblown. Mark Twain’s Huck Finn was immediately controversial partly because of its bad grammar ( http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americannovel/timeline/twain.html). In fact, no one sums up the American tendency to cast off the past and create your own thoughts and values than Huck Finn. When the widow is trying to “learn” him about Moses, Huck was interested at first until he finds out that Moses is dead. He then decides he does not care about Moses because he does not “take no stock in dead people.”

Even though I tend to believe that in most aspects of our culture, we are innovative and Twain-like, I confess I have moments of despair when it comes to reading and writing. While reading Beatrix Potter, I could not help but realize the implications of the fact that somewhere along the way we have switched to a primary battle of “are children reading” from battles about what children were reading. Not that there are not those who worry about what kids read, but for the  most part, I think we are just happy that kids read.

I used to work with middle schoolers (who admittedly had trouble reading), and I know that many of them would have not have understood many words and expressions in Beatrix Potter’s stories.  Examples include: “amongst,” “implored,” “fortnight,” “nought,” “excessively impertinent,” “This is passing extraordinary!” and many more. Even one story that had words like “sufficeth” and “hath” would be alienating to many of the kids I worked with.

I have seen many bloggers stress the importance of letting kids find what they love for reading, and I totally agree. However, can anyone deny the differing levels of sophistication of language and thought in Alice in Wonderland and Percy Jackson (I love the Percy Jackson series, by the way). And what consequences does this have down the road? I have known so many people who could not get into wonderful stories because of language barriers. Many of my classmates in college could not get into Jane Austen because the language was too dry for them. I think this problem can translate into our writing as well. If you read the letters that people wrote during the Civil War and WWI, for example, it is immediately apparent that those soldiers read regularly and were reading more sophisticated writing than we do now.

I have no concluding thoughts on this topic. I’m not sure if we, as a society, really have a problem or if I’m having a “when I was a child, I used to…” moment. Especially to all the teachers and parents out there, I’d love to hear if this is something you ever think about.  I’ll leave you with some Beatrix Potter illustrations because they are wonderful: 

Image  Image  Image

5 thoughts on “When I was a child, I had to walk 5 miles in the snow barefoot to get to school…

  1. I do think about this…and being nearly twice your age (yikes!) I can get even more nostalgic. Lately I’ve been reading some old novels by Gene Stratton-Porter. She wrote about learning entire stories and passages by heart, reading and rereading great literature, and how it influenced her own writing. She also had such incredible knowledge of nature and wrote about it with such detail. I sometimes despair of my students ever taking such a deep interest in anything. I see them give up when something seems hard to read, and so often they seem bored so easily. But like you, I’d rather have hope than gloom and doom.

    • Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! I’ve never read Gene Stratton-Porter, but I’ll definitely check her out after your description. I know schools today get away from having to memorize passages, but I think there’s value in it…if for no other reason that it forces you to read and reread something over and over again. It’s hard to not develop a relationship w/ literature when you’re doing that, I think.

  2. Me too, but my memory comes from talking with one uncle, who supposedly was not a very good student, who became an auto mechanic, but wrote poetry all his life. Sometime in those grown up years I discovered this & talked with him about his writing and reading. Here was a WWII vet, who didn’t go to college, who still read the old classics and wrote. My question is why? My whole family were readers so that is part of it, but he could have dismissed it all, and did not. He was also an inventor, & created his own flies for fly-fishing. I wonder what we have lost… And yet, my students show me that there are some “kids” who do persist & learn deeply, just perhaps fewer. You’ve posed such an interesting question!

    • Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment and sharing, Linda! Your uncle sounds like a fascinating man. There is something special about people who may struggle in school or doesn’t fit our typical sense of a book-ish person but nevertheless develops a real love of reading and writing.

  3. I laughed when I read “feeling old at 32”, I am 42, but I hear what you re saying. I have come across two groups of people, some who see that it’s downhill spiral and others who notice and see that there is always hope. The books were supposed to disappear when TV came, they are still there. There are people who read and write. Not all books are frivolous simple reads, there are many complicated texts out there, bought from stores and borrowed from libraries. Tweeting has shortened texts, but in many blog posts beautiful thoughts are expressed as they were in handwritten letters. I’ll go with hope.

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