Welcome to the new year! Thanks for coming back. I don’t know about y’all, but classes start next week. I’m pretty ready to go. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through my syllabi and trying to make them as best as I can. I’m sure you know what I mean.
As I was working on my Politics of Reading course, I became aware of not just how much I was asking students to read for a given week but also what I was asking them to read. You might think, duh, of course you were thinking about what they would be reading. We all do that. But what got my attention was along the lines of the genre.
Reading (and education) is a very political act these days. There are tons and tone and tons of blogs written by all kinds of people offering up the latest news, their perspectives, and their own personal opinions. There are also (of course) many news articles relevant to what we will be studying.
I have three books that we will be reading in the course. However, these books talk about educational issues more broadly. Reading in K-12 schools is always situated inside a broader political landscape, and it’s important for students to try to get their bearings. Therefore, I looked for additional readings that would either be: (a) about reading specifically or (b) more personal accounts of how these broader political issues were impacting real people.
I found a lot of relevant blog posts and news articles. Some were better than others, and I don’t think any would be what I would consider to fully capture a given point, but that’s the nature of those types of readings. In our class, we can examine what perspectives are there, what are missing, and I can always fill in additional background info.
So I started adding in blog posts and news articles for my students to read. And as I did this I noticed something – traditional readings were being left out.
What do I mean by traditional readings? Well, we have books to read so obviously that’s traditional. When I say traditional, I mean what’s common or the norm. And maybe blog posts and news articles are the norm for some classes, but for me it’s really not. I might ask students to read blogs, but I typically do not assign blog posts as readings. But I couldn’t help myself. It seemed so important and relevant to the overall purpose of the class.
And despite the fact that I believed reading blogs and news articles was highly relevant to the class, I somehow found myself concerned that I wasn’t being rigorous enough. I was worried that somehow the readings were less than.
Why? And less than what?
I found myself face-to-face with my own academic habits and what should count as readings for a college course. My habits suggest that books are fine, and peer-reviewed articles are fine, and then that’s it. So basically, what I’ve been doing all my life over here, is cutting out a huge amount of available texts because they don’t fall into those categories.
Now, of course I’m not going to assign any reading just for the same of assigning something to read. That’s silly. But I also shouldn’t be ignoring texts because they don’t fit into a standard academic category of readings. It’s not just what we read – it’s also how we read it. So I’m looking forward to engaging my students with a variety of texts in this course and helping them develop a critical mindset towards reading and discussing them. I’ve gotten comfortable with it all. I hope they will too.