Kelly Gallagher’s book, Readicide (2009), presents the idea that schools/English teachers are committing readicide: “systematically killing the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools” (2).
- Schools/English teachers are committing readicide, blindly, mercilessly, and, I choose to believe, unknowingly. I myself am guilty of having taught units, quizzing for comprehension, and pounding in not just large amounts of required reading but also beating a dead horse with theories, symbols, and whatever else that can be interpreted as a literary device. Then, when that failed, I went the opposite way and under taught books. With my under-teaching, I didn’t quiz, I tried to have weekly discussions but they didn’t always pan out; I became quite lax with my teaching. As Kelly Gallagher points out, I really think that I, a person who cherishes the written word and adores stories and thinks imagination and creativity are the most important skills a person can hone, killed some students’ love of reading. Overall, unsurprisingly, my students struggled, I struggled; we all experienced disappointment; we all were ready to mutiny; it was hell (Gaylor).
- In “Readicide” by Gallagher, the idea that learners are being replaced by test takers through the effects of over teaching, under teaching, and an abundance of standardized tests given to measure knowledge of the student and ability of the teacher is brought to the attention of the reader with thought provoking alternatives and ideas to prevent the readicide happening in todays schools. The information in this work is truly eye opening. It makes me want to take action. It makes me want to help other teachers to see how this is happening. It makes me want to brainstorm with others to find ways to prevent readicide and help our students to become real readers. I want more for my students than for them to be able to complete a test well. Excitement about literature is something I cherish in myself, and it is a part of who I am. I would hate for students to never discover that part of themselves because reading was beaten out of them. It makes sense why this has happened. A bar is set too high for students and teachers and we are punished if we do not reach it and it ends up being a punishment if the goal is reached. If the goal is reached it is creating a society built on students that only know how to memorize but not think critically or retain information. It also seems that some teachers are confused about how to even teach students to love the books they themselves love. They want so much information from them, and want to fill them with the love of a particular work. Unfortunately, this results in the over-teaching described in Readicide. The students are forced into hating particular works that they may have loved if they were taught with a different method. Although, over-teaching is causing this hatred, under-teaching can be a factor as well. This seems to be the teachers that are trying to compensate over those works that are over-taught. They are trying a new method. Teaching changes, but not all changes are good ones. It is good to keep an open mind, but the ideas and curriculums that align with the over-teaching and under-teaching of literature are causing a nation of inadequately informed students that no longer have a love of the only form of communication we have with our past. This is an incredible disservice, and I am taking this chance as an educator to help end readicide in schools (McWeeney).
- Classes should also not be just literature based, but also have some grasp of modern humanities too, so that students are not leaving high school completely ignorant of the culture they live in. For a student to grasp their culture, and to “build prior knowledge,” it gives them the tools that they need to comprehend what they are reading (Boller).
Gallagher addresses four major factors that contribute to “readicide” (5):
- Schools value the development of test-takers more than the development of readers.
- I would love to argue that schools do not, in fact, value the development of test-takers more than the development of readers, but, the truth is, actions speak louder than words. Actions from the past few years have shown a major push toward test preparation which has, as Gallagher points out, led to a fallout of reading novels/anything-aside-from-the-textbook-unless-it’s-an-“enlightening”-article (Gaylor).
- Schools are limiting authentic reading experiences.
- I feel that schools really are limiting authentic reading experiences because of the push for test preparation. Even if, in the classroom, students are encouraged to read, [many] do not receive class time to do so. They are expected to do it at home, home, where many are already busy with jobs, household chores, and catching up on their favorite television series. With the large amount of extracurricular activities that our youth are subjected to, “home” isn’t always the place meant for relaxing; “home” is sometimes the place where they eat their food and lay their head. By encouraging time for individual reading in the classroom, students are allowed 50 minutes of uninterrupted time where they can escape into the wonders a novel can hold (Gaylor).
- Teachers are overteaching books.
- Teachers, the sometimes overzealous lot that we are, can often do more harm than good, even with the best of intentions. By over-teaching books (i.e. investigating every nook and cranny, analyzing each character’s motive at every new decision, writing papers describing/detailing each setting per chapter, etc.), teachers are often overwhelming their students. Students need to be able to find some enjoyment from the books they are reading as opposed to feeling like they’re looking for answers at every turn. Doing this takes not just the fun out of reading, it takes the breath out of the life each book as to offer (Gaylor).
- Teachers are underteaching books.
- Books are gateways to new worlds. New people. New ideas. Sometimes, the ideas are obvious; sometimes, they’re buried under stray thoughts and actions. When a teacher under-teaches a book, they are depriving the students (aka: a good percentage of the class) of the philosophies they may be missing. Students may not fully grasp the theme(s) the author was intending, or they may miss out completely on a character’s motivation, or any number of other gems that can lie hidden in the grass of a good book. By under-teaching, students never fully “get it.” They close the book and feel that their time was wasted in reading it as opposed to experiencing the enlightenment, anger, or whatever other emotional/philosophical response that the author intended for his/her audience to feel (Gaylor).
- Describe any experiences you have had with “readicide” in your own learning.
- In my own teaching… I “killed” The Red Badge of Courage (and even the main character, Henry, didn’t die. But I figuratively killed him in every example of figurative language we over-analyzed). I got caught up in “over-teaching” and failed to teach the big picture themes that were relevant to my students. The point was to see the beauty in the forest, but instead, we just dug a big hole for one tree by analyzing the small details. That made each passage feel like a trudge through the already fictional war scenes. However, after a few years, I was proud of the transformation in my teaching of this book. We created foldables for our notes, I narrowed our figurative language to specific passages that gave context to the story, and they had a narrative war letter project that could rival many creative writing competitions. I feel I was able to redeem my teaching of the book which allowed the book to speak. As a teacher, I realized that sometimes I am the voice for the book, but I also realized that my students need to find their voices as well— and that is the balance (Searcy).
- My senior year, we were required to read one book, A Time to Kill. There was one student out of my entire grade who actually read the book. The rest of us loathed the required readings and the short, weekly discussions; we all longed for the end so that we could watch the movie. (The movie was good!) My teacher didn’t encourage the reading other than by his own love of and experience with it; each discussion was short (only the one contributed…); there were no quizzes or application of comprehension; it was easy to slack off (Gaylor).
- I was lucky enough in high school that I know I had wonderful teachers. I always took AP classes and make a constant effort in class. I know this helped me to become the reader I am today. Even in these classes, I have had experiences with readicide. Crime and Punishment was the first book I have ever hated. I loved my teacher, but she had a horrible way of over-teaching books. I was so incredibly sick of this book by the time it was over I barely knew what happened, and I did not care one bit. I will be happy to put that book behind me. Now that I am older I know I would appreciate Dostoyevsky, but at the time I hated every minute of it. Another novel taught by the same teacher was In Cold Blood. It was the same over-teaching I had experienced with Crime and Punishment. It ended with me reading Sparknotes and feeling like a failure. I still really do not know what either of those books are about, but as I was reading Gallagher’s novel I realized what happened to me in that class. I experienced the over-teaching that causes students to run far away from lovely classics and never look back (McWeeney).
- STOP. TEACHING. TO. THE. TEST. I feel more inspired now than ever before (and I was already pretty motivated) to not teach my students materials that cover “shallowly” as Gallagher puts it. I want to teach my students deeply, so that they understand fully what is expected of them when they are reading materials.
- Poverty or previous struggles with reading do not need to be the excuse for not continuing to do well. Each student has to ability to take-hold of their education at any time, and I need to be a facilitator for this push toward personal achievement.
- I feel the call to spread the word about the devastating phenomena of readicide. I feel it is almost a responsibility to enlighten, if you will, others of the effects that forcing reading upon kids in an unrelenting sort of way does more than lead them do poorly in class, it can cause a lifelong dislike and disinterest in reading (Gaylor).
- I am so incredibly happy I was able to read this book. It feels like a call to action. It makes me realize all that I want to share with others and the direction I want my classroom to take. It is inspiring and anger inducing. Which it is a good thing. I want to have a drive in my heart to create an environment of higher learning. I want to be angry about the results of readicide. I want others to recognize those results. This book helped me to realize that I was not alone in my feelings of resentment of certain classics. I thought maybe Russian literature just was not for me. It is a little bad to know I was not alone, because I know there were surely other students in my class that will never pick up a novel similar to the ones over-taught to us. This is a horrible shame. I do not want that happening in my future classroom or even in my future school. I will carry this drive with me to my classroom and to my peers to create a learning environment that will nurture literature in a way that creates a growing love for literature in my students (McWeeney).