One Fish, Two Fish, @#$% You, Blue Fish.
It’s not that I don’t like Dr. Seuss.
In fact, I’m pretty indifferent to Dr. Seuss. Really. I don’t recall reading or owning too many of the books when I was young. Plenty of storybooks, just not a lot of Dr. Seuss.
So why is our hero smacking the bejeesus out of a Blue Fish?
Good question, True Believer. As alluded to in a post last week, we have an upcoming after school event by our partner organization, Urban Time. Urban Time gives a year out of the lives of clever young people, often college grads, to be volunteers in a sort of domestic Peace Corps. They are a little like a cult, the matching shoes being the creepiest of elements. Urban Time is having a Family Literacy Night, with activities designed to support reading and literary activity in the home.
The night of the activity, February 28th, is two days away from Dr. Seuss’ birthday, the 2nd of March. One thing led to another once this was mentioned in some meeting I was not asked to attend, and when all was over, we had a Dr. Seuss night at our school.
Which would be fine if we were an elementary school.
We’re a Middle School, grades Six through Eight. Dr. Seuss’ writing doesnt top out higher than grade 3.9 in a lexile analysis. The two things don’t match.
First, it is demotivating to a kid, who KNOWS they should be reading better, to organize an activity with material so far beneath them.
Second…it’s kind of saying, point blank, “this is where you are kid.” Three Grade Levels behind. That’s a rough sentiment, and even if it isn’t meant, it’s what the kid will hear. As much as they might gripe about how hard Edgar Allan Poe is, they wind up liking it…because it is cool, it suits their maturity, and finally, it challenges them. No kid thinks that I think they are dumb…because the content I bring out is pretty high brow.
Third…at one of the fancy, lily white middle schools where I live in West Los Angeles, we would never see this. If the yuppie parents that pay property taxes for more solid schools thought that there was a less than challenging activity, the PTA would be up in arms. However, in South Central, parental involvement is just beginning, and there is no PTA. Thusly, the outcry group is curtailed.
I’ve had to have a few meetings with Urban Time about how this really isn’t okay…and ethically, as an English teacher, I can’t support the event. I’m not going to pretend I’m okay with effectively talking down to my students, regardless of the fact that yes, a small percentage of them would still find a Seuss book challenging. The fact is…they are clever enough, and mature enough to find deconstructions of Disney films humorous…meaning that they are past the cognitive level of a simple storybook.
That point hasn’t been all that well heard. Urban Time are well meaning apologists, really attempting to push through with it, with an “as best we can do” mentality. The “best we can do” part might bug me the most. We wouldn’t tolerate that sentence in car repair, using lower grade parts and not the best methods. We wouldn’t get surgery like that. Why should we educate our neediest students in that way? With lower grade materials, and cobbled together efforts…
In an attmpt to not be too much of a negative influence, I delivered a high level linguistic theory lecture to the Urban Time people during my hour long conference period. I even refrained from taking shots at the event, although I did make clear that the input hypothesis (i plus 1) suggests that material must be presented that is both interesting and mildly intellectually challenging, to provide cognitive growth.
In other words…leave the good Doctor in the Third Grade, people. Or…”No…I do NOT like green eggs and ham.”
Possibly the ham.
Certainly not that smug Blue Fish.