What did I just read?

Note: I’m posting a few thoughts today. This blog is my pensieve. I’m struggling with writing today. This post is just a note.

This post feels like a fairy tale: not too long ago I was looking around for ways to engage my students in reading. Not just “more,” but — at all. Over the years I’ve witnessed increasing disengagement with reading. Or decreasing engagement with reading. Not sure which sounds better or is more accurate.

But reading is all I seem to do now– I read and listen to as many headlines, articles, tweets, posts, speeches, police scanners and news updates my brain can hold in a day. My skills at detecting lies, bad faith, trolling, racism, etc., have become more finely tuned and accurate. And maybe that’s why my teenage students aren’t reading as much as they used to. It’s one reason. I can point to skills-based instruction and state standardized tests that display an excerpt of text to be autopsied and dissected with no joy or meaning. Only the skills of being able to “cite evidence” or choose the best multiple choice answer. Reading, in its current state, is either boring, irrelevant, or horrifying. Because when we actually read what is under the headline, the subheads and subtexts, we find nothing of substance or nightmare fuel.

When Jennifer Binis (a fantastic writer and educational historian) said something about The Highwayman (an allusion) I became very excited. I taught that poem for years when I taught 7th grade– my husband and I were watching a Led Zeppelin concert that was filmed in 2012 and streamed this past Saturday (not sure how that wormhole of entertainment works), and “No Quarter” reminds me of The Highwayman. What I love about her comment is thinking back this may have inspired her love of close reading.

Think about this: what was the text that made you blush, take notice, think you discovered some titillating secret? Some bawdy passage or prose on your parents’ bookshelf that made you think there’s more to this reading thing than what school told you? My parents had their share of 70s trashy novels I’m sure I read, and I know my uncle stashed issues of National Lampoon I found hilarious and raunchy.

I’m not suggesting we give R rated periodicals to our students. But I am wondering if, for high school students, we share that one deeper purpose for reading is to connect to our whole self–that novels and stories we love might have romance, sexuality, and gender identities, and love? And maybe take a minute and explain the dime-store detective novel or pulp fiction? I had never heard the term “Penny Dreadful” but when I started watching the series, I looked it up and it made complete sense.

Some quick ideas for reading and writing our own “pulp fiction” — look into Film Noir, penny dreadfuls, chapbooks, etc. and write our own. Any recommendations?

PS Read Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad

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