Ahhhhh, readers’ privilege, nothing enlivens my mind more. This is an interesting topic and a complicated one, especially within the walls of a classroom. Outside of the classroom, all of the readers’ rights posed by Daniel Pennac are completely exercisable, absolute discretion. Nobody can modify your personal reading rights on your own time, have fun, do whatever you please. But because the topic of reading rights is generally associated with structured classroom formats, I’ll stick to this area of the discussion.
How do classrooms open new avenues of reading? How can thirty different students read thirty different books and the class still maintain a structured format? Although the question appears to be daunting, I really don’t think it is an alien goal. One solution to readers’ rights is the give and take method. A class can read a book together, and the teacher can instruct the students on grammar, themes, writing styles, figurative language, syntax, diction, points-of-view, structure, etc, etc, etc. Then the students can break off on their own reading adventure using the tools given, with the teacher still there as a guiding hand. A middle ground to this would at the very least be a choice between ten to fifteen books on individual reading assignments. An English teacher can surely come up with fifteen books that he or she has read and can teach towards. Think about all the reading rights a student is exercising by being allowed to choose the book of their choice: the right not to defend your taste, the right to browse, the right to read graphic novels and magna, and more. I think there is a giant myth out there saying students will revolt and become completely obstinate if given freedom of choice. If there are stubborn reading students, then I can all but guarantee they are going to read more if you open the bookcase for them. There is also a myth that structure can’t be obtained within readers rights. I only see a more dynamic structure forming as a result.
Yes, I think it is equally important for a class to read the same book. There needs to be a classroom unit that grows together, there has to be. Having central works of literature facilitates great discussion, and lets students see the dynamic nature of human discernment. Although, would the ability to read different books as a class not reach the same goal? Sure it would. It would reflect human taste, and help students understand that not everyone has the same reading passions. I’m just saying to give a little bit. Don’t let students completely control everything, but let’s satisfy their reading tastes with books they want to read. For that keeps them reading. For this to work at a high level, English teachers need to be adamant readers, and possess works of all kinds on their book shelves. So what is in the way of letting students read what they want to at the general education level?
The answer to the previous question is definitive, curriculum standards. Centralizing the class to one book at a time keeps students on track, and in turn makes everyone happy. I’m not saying this cannot be done, great teachers can still grow voracious readers through this format. I’m only mulling over the notion of different routes to the same goal. Teachers can keep classroom instruction over reading comprehension and writing strategies unified, but then allow students the choice to read books of their choosing in order to exercise the lessons that were taught. To be honest, this question of readers’ rights may be impossible to answer without first having been thrown into the fire. I’ll hopefully be able to attain a teaching certificate and be able to find out first hand if I can implement a moderate dose of readers’ privilege in the classroom. I’m sure going to try. I can’t see any reason not to with the world of young adult literature opening up to me in the here and now.
(in all of this readers’ rights stuff be sure to keep in mind that the teacher does need to know what students are reading, there are obviously books out there not suitable to be read in a general education classroom)
(Cover photo courtesy of Forrest Cavale)