BRIGHTON - At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the usually bustling Brighton North Elementary School was quieter than is typical, as students joined others around the world to read a few passages from a classic children's book - with a world record to break.You can read the rest here.
The 476 students at Brighton North took a few minutes to read from Charlotte's Web, the children's story by E.B. White about the friendship between a pig named Wilbur and a spider named Charlotte. As part of its marketing strategy for a new, live-action movie version of the 1952 book, Paramount Pictures and Walden Media, producers of the movie, aimed to familiarize a new generation of children with the book. The film is slated for release Wednesday.
Now, when I first read this article, I was of two minds about it. Allow me to demonstrate using dorky debate-team format.
POINT: Kids are reading!
This is always a good thing and should never, ever, ever, ever-to-the-power-of-infinity be naysayed. Right?
COUNTERPOINT: But dude, it's sponsored by the mainstream film industry!
What have movie folks done for kids' books that we should applaud them for? They've totally FUBAR-ed classics like The Borrowers and Harriet the Spy. And Disney alone is responsible for
POINT: But kids are reading!
"Sure, the whole thing is a big publicity stunt, but reading chorally helps the students become better readers," says Susan Harris, associate librarian at the school profiled in the article. I didn't know this. Is it true? As a former kid myself, I've always found that a group of children reading in unison sounds like a Gregorian dirge, but perhaps I'm alone in this perception. And if choral reading really does provide children with some extra cognitive development, it's sour grapes to naysay it, right?
COUNTERPOINT: But it's still a shameless shill for a movie!
What have things come to when we let the entertainment industry start affecting the curriculum? Is it just a matter of time before high-school students are performing Saw: The Musical (insert your own pun about musical saws here) in drama festivals? Is this a slippery slope we should fear, or am I just a paranoid hater? (Don't discount the fact that I could be both.)
POINT: It's bringing the young 'uns together in their shared love of a great book!
Apparently, the kids in the article are collaborating on class art projects based on the book. Awww... that's nice. It really is. I feel like making something myself, like maybe a cool wall-size spiderweb made out of twine. I could write "Doppelganger rules" in it!
COUNTERPOINT: Couldn't all this reading and artistic collaboration have been generated independently about any number of great books, and by teachers and librarians, without the impetus of a movie studio?
Would that be so hard? Are kids really so reluctant to read awesome stories that they need the lure of major motion pictures and Guinness records to suck them in? (Teachers and librarians, feel free to school me soundly. I am ignorant in the ways of our school system and today's modern child.)
POINT: But the kids are reading! They really are!
Of the 38 copies of Charlotte's Web in the school's library, all of them had been checked out at the time this article was written.
Of course, you knew the argument would come down on the side of "any reading is good reading." That's my mantra, and I'll stick by it. But if you hear the sound of muffled retching, that's just me with this story stuck in my craw.