Readicide–Musings on Kelly Gallagher’s new book

First, about the book title, Gallagher writes “Read-i-cide:noun, the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools” pg 2. Not to be too picky, but I think “Legicide” would be a slicker name– “Legi” from the Latin “Lego” meaning to read. But it also has the sweet connotation of legislate, so you end up with the idea of a legislated killing of reading.

Not really the point. Sorry Mr. Gallagher.

My point is, after an admittedly brief skimming of the book (which is hardly enough evidence upon which to formulate an opinion–I know), I surprised to find myself disagreeing with him a little bit.

I don’t disagree in principle with the idea that an over-emphasis on high-stakes testing is partially responsible for killing “reading for the love of reading”. Thankfully, I don’t teach in the United States where some schools actually receive economic sanctions for poor test scores! Although I do think that placing too much importance on the evidence we get from EQAO tests hurts student learning and teacher practice in the long run.

Nor do I disagree with his point that “there is a dearth of interesting reading materials in our schools” (pg. 45).

Maybe Gallagher would disagree with me, but I get the impression that when he writes about reading materials, he’s only talking about novels. I don’t think that’s a misinterpretation since he writes “When schools remove novels from the students’ curriculum and replace challenging books with shorter pieces and worksheets, they are denying students the foundational reading experiences for developing those regions of their brains that enable them to think deeply” (pg. 40). First of all, from my perspective as a teacher, I know that novels have been disappearing from course outlines, but not to make room for more standardize test preparation; rather, they have been removed so that we have more room for texts that represent authentic reading for our students.

Gallagher writes about the need for authentic reading experiences, but he really only seems to be writing about novels. I would argue that if we really want to give our students authentic reading experiences, we need to provide texts that honour the types of reading they see as valuable. I believe novels can be a part of that, but when I think of a wealth of reading materials, I’m picturing a print rich environment that includes magazines, non-fiction books, blogs, wikis, newspapers, plays, graphic novels, scripts, AND novels. I am coming at this from the perspective of an English major who loves to read novels but respects the fact that many highly intelligent critical thinkers do not share my love of reading novels.

It really is a wonderful thing when you can turn a kid on to a novel–when they find that story they can connect to and become engrossed in, but I don’t think that should be our ultimate goal as English teachers. I think we need to find ways to provide opportunities for students to engage in reading so that they are thinking critically, questioning, responding, connecting, and being entertained! But I don’t think that The Novel is always the best way to do that.

We need to broaden our definition of reading, but we also need to broaden our appreciation for the benefits of different types of reading, especially when thinking about what it means to be literate in the 21st century.