maeve66: (Read Motherfucking Books All Damn Day)
... when there are only nine days left?

But I do. Ugh. Lesson planning is done until the end of the year. Everyone is on final end-of-the-year-projects (well, not the 6th graders... I wish I could think of something for that... I should...) either poetry books for ELA, or make-a-boardgame-for "The Age of Exploration" or "The Enlightenment", for Social Studies. And after the poetry book is done, which should be this Thursday, we get to read and then do Readers' Theater for "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street", which is an enjoyable Cold War allegory from The Twilight Zone. And then we get to watch it, and maybe also watch the one about William Shatner coming home on a plane after a nervous breakdown, and seeing an abominable snowman on the plane's wing, trying to sabotage the plane. But no one else can see it! Just the once-again-crazy guy!

I SHOULDN'T have the Sunday Night Blues!

Bah. I'm just going to go to bed and read. I'm on the second-to-last (boy, I'm liking the dash tonight) medieval mystery series about Isaac of Girona, by Caroline Roe. A blind Jewish physician in post-plague Girona, in the kingdom of Aragon. It's before (about a century before) the expulsion of Jews from Spain, fucking Isabella of Castile, and before the Reconquista, though the Jewish quarters are under pressure, and courtly exchanges between Moors and Christians are fraying. I like the series. It's a little slow moving, but it definitely does well with the setting.

Speaking of reading, I am going slower this year, on my goal of an average of a book a day. I put in 365 again, on Goodreads, but I am only 24 or so books ahead of where I should be. Last year I just kept getting farther ahead. Maybe I'll catch up over the summer. REREADING, baybee. (I still do that to comfort myself, [personal profile] springheel_jack).
maeve66: (Read Motherfucking Books All Damn Day)
Day 1: Have reading and writing changed (in utility, in purpose, in percentage of literacy, in any way) since the advent of video?

There ended up being 75 topics, and maybe I'll come up with more, and I'll leave that post stuck at the top there, in case anyone ELSE wants to come up with more topics, but meanwhile, I thought what I might do is write a couple of these entries a week, not forcing myself to write every day. My mother SAYS she might join me and do one entry a week, to sort of ease her way into blogging. I hope she does. [profile] redlibrarian39, I'm talking to YOU. Even my older niece has gotten into the blogging act, but she's using Blogger, with a friend of hers in NYC. They're silly and funny, the pair of them, and also very good at writing.

On today's topic -- honestly, I feel like I shot my bolt on this when I made my class write on the topic basically as a punishment when they couldn't settle down one day last year (and by last year I mean, during the 2011-2012 school year). If I could find the handwritten two pages I did then, I'd scan them and put them in here. I don't want to rewrite the whole thing from memory. What I write below is not what I wrote that day, though it may share some elements.

Anecdotally, as a teacher, I feel that the worth of learning to read complicated or deep material has suffered since the popularization of TV, movies, and videos in general. Even when I was a kid, our culture was still not entirely video-saturated -- our crappy black and white TV got only, what, between six and nine channels, and stopped broadcasting at midnight, going to crackly snow. And movies were an occasional treat, at a movie theater, for $3.25. $2.25, matinee. Probably my generation watched fewer movies, in fact, than children in the fifties, for who (at least according to Stephen King) it seems to have been a weekly thing. In any case, before I digress further -- reading was the imaginative escape I sought, at any rate. I know that there was already (in fact, that there doubtless always was) a large proportion of kids who thought reading was boring, most likely because they weren't great at it. That's the thing. I didn't really understand until I took credentialing classes in teaching reading that it was such a hard skill to acquire. If you understand anything less than 95% of the words in a selection you are reading, the frustration level is so high that you won't understand enough of the text to continue it. Thus, the smaller reading vocabulary you have, the crappier things (generally -- the "lower interest" texts) you'll have available to read at your reading level. But if you challenge yourself too much, the frustration pushes you down.

More than that -- because I think that that problem must have existed since literacy has existed -- with all of the diversions and distractions and substitutions for text offered by audio-visual narratives, I think that people in the past generation or so have not developed the skill of picturing what they either read, or hear, in their head. I ask students what they picture when I am reading aloud, and most of them have a hard time, unless there is a movie version of the text, and they've seen it. For me, I always had such a clear picture in my mind from fiction that I was almost universally disappointed by the look imposed on characters if a film WAS made from whatever the book was. My niece is like that. My students are mostly not like that -- at least the ones in the English/Language Arts Support class are not like that.

It is a little hard to tell whether the students who don't have a Support class have that mental picturing skill to a higher degree... from their weekly reading logs, it is clear that some of them read challenging and complex texts (one kid is seriously working his way through a number of 19th century classics, from Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson through Melville's Moby Dick) and that they do imagine scenes... they write specifically about what they can picture in part of the daily log. But for many of them, they read and reread the Wimpy Kid books, or the Junie B. Jones books, both of which are elementary school level texts...

Science fiction has had a lot to say, predictively, about whether reading will cease to be something that the majority of people can do. Maybe I am more affected by reading sci fi than by looking at actual data? The two authors whose predictions I remember most immediately are Neal Stephenson and John Varley. For Stephenson, most non-elite people in his corporatized future (in one book, Snow Crash the only political states are the balkanized corporations and private companies which own and run each aspect of society) only "read" what he calls mediaglyphs, which are some set of symbols you can use to operate various machines -- like the icons on your desktop -- "open", "close", "turn on", "turn off", "go forward" etc. For Varley, he doesn't get as specific about what remnants of literacy there might be, except that in his 8 Worlds novel* that is focused on a journalist and the world of news coverage Steel Beach there are (actually, also in The Golden Globe, another of the 8 Worlds novels) there are carefully "leveled" versions of any text, from fully written, through something with a limited vocabulary, to simply audio and visual, which he assumes is the version the vast majority access. Written -- electronically, on pads much like today's tablets -- newspapers are quaint dinosaurs entirely subsidized by the State. Varley (although he seems himself to be a libertarian) does HAVE a State, unlike Stephenson's mini-entities. Varley's State is, however, run by a Central Computer that is functionally self-aware and smarter than humans are capable of being.

Okay, I digressed again. Nevertheless, I think my point is, overall... that maybe literacy for the majority IS something that is going to be transformed by our culture's increasing use of video for every purpose. You know, unless we reach a capitalist and ecological crisis that has us starkly facing "socialism or barbarism" and ending up with barbarism. In that case, I guess reading words written by hand on some facsimile of paper will again become a crucial skill. OR NOT (that latter option would be the conclusion drawn by one of my mother's favorite post-Apocalyptic novels -- yes, she loves that whole genre -- Earth Abides.



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