How to Teach Smart Kids Not to Read Books

I recently appeared at a Chicago middle school to discuss my books. The schedule was simple: I would meet with a small group of 8th graders and then make two slide presentations, first with the entire 7th grade, then the 8th grade, and conclude with another select group of kids who’d expressed interest in being a writer.

Many of the students had read the first book in the COLD FURY trilogy before I arrived and were excited to discuss it. My experience has been that most kids are small geniuses—inquisitive, insightful, and unforgiving if they think my answer to a question is half-ass. Never underestimate the brains of 7th and 8th graders, and remember, when you enter your golden years, they’ll be the rulers of the world.

Their Principal could’ve taken a few lessons from them.

She didn’t greet me when I arrived, so there was no opportunity to chat about the presentation I would make. She didn’t read my books (although the teachers and librarians who scheduled me did, of course,) and she sat through only half of my second large presentation. And then, through an intermediary, she kicked me out of the school.

No reason was provided, not to the sweating, flustered intermediary, and not to me. All I was told was that something I said ‘disturbed’ the Principal. I asked what it was and received shrugs and apologies, so I left without talking to the final group of aspiring authors. I learned later that the Principal addressed the student body in order to quell any anxiety I’d created. Apparently, not a single kid knew what she was talking about.

Stop for a moment and think: this is a professional educator, one who is supposed to be encouraging curiosity and analytical thinking in young adults. As I told the intermediary (okay, flunky,) I’m fortunate enough to have a circle of talented author friends who write YA fiction that discusses sex, sexual crimes, drug use and abuse, and all other manner of, um—reality. Some of it is highly fictionalized and some of it isn’t, but all of those books contain the essential core of good YA literature, which is an emotional connection to its readers. Despite what that Principal thinks, kids that age know all about those subjects and much, much more. Shutting down a forum where students have the chance to question a book’s content, choking off their opportunity to discuss their thoughts and opinions, isn’t only bad teaching; it’s an insult to their intelligence.

I agree with a school administrator’s right to censor a presentation if, in her learned opinion, it contains material that is age inappropriate. Personally, if she was my kids’ Principal and pulled a move like that, I’d leave a boot print on her ass, but that’s just me. Short of that, I’d at least articulate why I thought her decision was wrong.

That’s what adults do.

Posted by T.M. Goeglein on 05/20 at 10:55 AM