Claire Needell Hollander, a reading enrichment teacher in the New York City Public Schools, did some serious fiction advocacy in the New York Times yesterday. For the last seven years, Hollander has worked with sixth through eight graders who wouldn’t normally be exposed to classic works of fiction.
Along with Of Mice and Men, my groups read: Sounder, The Red Pony, A Raisin in the Sun, Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.
And while the kids were totally wrong about Catcher (“Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage.”), they had some interesting reactions to other works:
Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read The Grapes of Wrath and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes.
Hollander’s program appears to be enrichment in every sense of the word. But there’s a catch: exposing kids to fiction hasn’t had a quantifiable impact on their standardized test performance, and the value of helping them understand what it’s like to be a human being is running up against data-driven assessments.
– Michael Moats