Sunday, September 27, 2015

Who speaks for reading, writing and literature?, II

Just as those to whom math comes easily, e.g. mathematicians, sometimes seem to think that one can learn math simply by playing around with numbers, those to whom reading comes easily, e.g. literary people, sometimes seem to think that one can learn reading and literature simply by reading what's around. No need for gradual practice with progressively tougher language and content (let alone explicit instruction in phonics): simply dive into what's there--preferably the classics--no matter how prohibitive the prose.

Thus, the unschooled Kit in Blackbird Pond learns to read from the grownup books in her grandfather's library; the unschooled Jane Eyre, aged 10, is reading Gulliver's Travels and A History of British Birds; and Calpurnia in To Kill A Mockingbird has learned how to read from Blackstone's Commentaries. As for Frankenstein's monster, the most unschooled of them all, after just a few months observing the speech and the informal reading lessons of some unsuspecting neighbors through the window of his hovel, he has not only mastered his first language, but is reading Sorrows of Young Werther, Plutarch's Lives, and Paradise Lost.

Of course, there are easier books out there for today's kids--including, for example, Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird. But I wonder what effect it has on both students and educators to keep reading about how easily reading comes to some of our most celebrated characters.


Cynthia said...

I may be misremembering, but I don't think To Kill a Mockingbird ever talks about Calpurnia (the maid) learning to read, and you probably mean Scout, who learned simply by looking at whatever Atticus was reading.

Katharine Beals said...

I'm just reading it now and it is indeed Calpurnia who learns how to read in this way.

Cynthia said...

Okay. It's been a while since I read it.