Be happy in your learn­ing

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY DEAN LAW­SON

Many par­ents will agree that en­cour­ag­ing teenage chil­dren to read and im­merse them­selves in books can be chal­leng­ing.

Get­ting them to re­set, so their brains gen­er­ate im­ages from de­scrip­tive text in­stead of re­ly­ing on sup­plied im­agery – so much part of mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy – can be dif­fi­cult.

Many ed­u­ca­tors, keen to help, stress a need to pro­vide chil­dren with books that re­flect the young read­ers’ in­ter­ests, and there­fore en­cour­age them to be, or keep, them en­gaged. Good ad­vice.

We can’t help but won­der, when se­lect­ing the books for teenagers to study at school, how in-tune we are with chil­dren’s needs to be­come com­fort­able, com­pe­tent and an­a­lyt­i­cal read­ers.

With a lengthy pe­riod as a par­ent of chil­dren at­tend­ing school I have lost count of the times I have gri­maced or groaned in try­ing to read the books the kids have brought home.

Ask­ing teenagers to read, an­a­lyse, de­bate and write con­struc­tively on provoca­tive pieces of work is a crit­i­cal part of learn­ing. But does sub­ject mat­ter nec­es­sar­ily need to be bor­ing, de­press­ing and loaded with ide­olo­gies, veiled mes­sages and agen­das?

I re­mem­ber with dread my own year-12 ex­pe­ri­ences all those years ago when forced to read John Stein­beck’s ‘mas­ter­piece’ The Grapes of Wrath.

Call me a philis­tine of lit­er­a­ture, but for an im­ma­ture pubescent 17-year-old in­ter­ested in sport, mu­sic and fun it was a painful, dreary and dread­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t think I picked up a book for at least a year af­ter­wards.

In an­other ex­am­ple, in al­most ev­ery year of his sec­ondary school life, my now adult son had to read books based on the Sec­ond World War holo­caust.

Fair enough, there are some pretty strong and im­por­tant lessons in the sub­ject that we should all take on board. But five year’s worth? Come on, fair go!

Lit­tle won­der the sub­ject be­comes tir­ing and im­por­tant mes­sages get di­luted.

Then there’s the string of so­cial sob-story books, many in­volv­ing de­pres­sive or down­trod­den teenagers or dys­func­tional fam­i­lies, that are sup­pos­edly de­signed to stim­u­late an emo­tive path­way to learn­ing. Ugh!

What I’m say­ing is of course sub­jec­tive and this adult-in­spired di­rec­tion in lit­er­a­ture for im­pres­sion­able teenage minds no doubt works for some.

But what about stu­dents yearn­ing to be stim­u­lated by pow­er­ful pos­i­tive mes­sages about hu­man­ity, them­selves and so­ci­ety that they don’t have to dig too hard to find?

We’re not talk­ing about su­gar-coat­ing the sub­ject mat­ter of study books to a point of be­ing con­trived. That too can be bor­ing and unin­spir­ing.

But be­ing con­stantly en­cour­aged to wade through bor­ing sub­ject mat­ter and then feel sad about the world by pick­ing over its bones through lit­er­a­ture is no good for any­one. It is also hardly a way to get more young peo­ple in­ter­ested in books.

Some bal­ance would be nice.

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