Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Just 12 Books

The New York Times is full of inspiration this morning. I enjoyed this essay by David Brooks, who looks at the different ways we live our lives. He posits that some of us lead Well-Planned Lives, a life modeled by Clayton Christensen, who spent an hour every night of his time as a Rhodes Scholar thinking, reading, and praying about his purpose on the planet. Brooks then goes on to talk about the Summoned Life, which says that life is essentially a mystery, that we can't possibly plan in the way that Christensen did.

Then I went to this story, which talks about the results of a student summer reading experiment. One group of low-income children got to choose 12 books, any books they wanted, at a book fair shortly before the end of the school year. Another group received activity and puzzle books. At the end of 3 summers, the students who chose the 12 books had significantly higher reading scores.

One of the secrets of success? The students chose the books, which meant they would actually read them. Some of us have already suspected the implications of this study. Reading, any reading, is better than no reading.

The successful students weren't reading classics. The most popular book was a biography of Britney Spears, not a choice that most parents or teachers would choose for the children.

The story also mentions the cost of this program: $50 per student. Lots of bang for the buck there. It's a much cheaper program than summer school would be for the children, and the benefits were similar.

I've always fantasized about winning the lottery and all the social justice programs that I could fund with my winnings. I've always dreamed of funding feminist projects.

But maybe I don't need to win the lottery. Maybe I should create some kind of foundation to fund these kind of programs.

I wonder if there's something similarly inexpensive that we could all be doing as poets. I think children have a natural delight in the kinds of things we often see in poetry: fanciful use of language, intriguing imagery, rhythm, meter, rhyme, word play. Why and when do children lose that? How can we as grown up poets work to make sure the loss doesn't happen?

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