Listening to the Kids

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I have been listening to my teenager again, and I do not like what I hear. I want to cover my ears and yell, “No, no, no!” He is telling me that he does not want to waste his time reading literature. I spend the next 24 hours fortifying myself with arguments as to why literature is important. They range from things like, “if you don’t join the ranks of people who read literature, then just go on down to Walmart and find some friends who share your mindset” to “Reading literature familiarizes you with ideas and battles over ideas and subjects you to the intricacies of one point of view pitted against another”. When I finally give up on defending literature, I settle for maintaining that reading itself is important, so why don’t we go to the library and find a non fiction book on something he is interested in, like famous skiers, or ocean life. He then replies that he does not see why reading books is so important; after all, books are quickly outdated and he doubts he will find very many books on free style skiing as it is a new sport. He watches countless videos and profiles on the internet about the sport. He is of course right about this. He is much more likely to find current pertinent information on the web. Have you ever tried to find a book on race cars at the library? They are all from the sixties of the last century. Even 10 years ago when I was combing libraries for books that would interest my oldest son at age 12, I could see that bound volumes were not keeping up to date with the internet.

So now, I am left with the open question, is it actually important to read books? In spite of my 15 year old son’s dogmatic opposition, I do believe that literature matters. But one could read it on tablets and web pages.

Of course I could dismiss my son’s opposition as hormone-inspired irrationality. But I see that his resistance brings up some very tough questions. Perhaps the biggest one is, “Won’t it be increasingly difficult for children to turn to reading literature in the face of the quick delivery of the internet?” It feels a little like Fahrenheit 451 to me, only the firemen have been supplanted by smart phones. Am I being reactionary? Am I an old person now who is not keeping up with times? I feel so distraught at the idea of my son missing out on the entirety of literature. Do they manage to coerce the kids into reading literature in school?

I pulled out “What is the What?” by Dave Eggers, an amazing novel based on the true story of the lost boys from Sudan. This is a novel that held my oldest son in it’s grip until he finished it. I read the first couple of paragraphs to myself and I knew my currently oppositional son would find it riveting. I read the first sentence aloud, “Because I couldn’t think of any reason not to, I answered the door” or something to that effect. What a great beginning. You just know something is going to happen, but you have no idea what. My son seemed nonplussed. A fellow mother had reminded me that the hormones are raging and thus the 15 year old boys are sometimes literally not themselves. I put the book down with the thought that he might pick it up himself sometime when I am not looking. And pigs can fly.

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2 thoughts on “Listening to the Kids

  1. Isn’t it likely that some of his opposition to reading is still being derived from his struggle to overcome a reading disability?

    • Yes Dad, It is extremely likely, but if anything then, he is the ultimate case study in this problem that I suspect must be occurring across his whole generation and those after him. He respects his reading tutor and generally does what she suggests, but now that she suggests choosing a real book (from a list of books with lower ability requirements but higher intellectual appeal) he feels very strongly that books are not worth the time required, and that literature itself is of questionable value. Of course I see that he is daunted by ththe tradition of difficulty that he associates with reading,m but i am suggesting that 10 years ago, when there would not have been a choice to watch videos on interesting subjects all day,he might have felt more compelled to wage war with the words on the page. I am frankly taken by surprise that the memory of literature we read out loud is not more of an inspiration….I know he lived to hear the next installment of Stephan king’s The Body that we read out loud two years ago or so…. I wrote this piece because I do not think Marsden is alone or particularly obstinate. I suspect this problem of technology superseding “books” is a big shift. Do toddlers still wait anxiously for story time if they have ipads to play on???

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