I was thrilled to read an article in the NY Times yesterday called "Students Get New Reading Assignment: Pick Books You Like" which gives an example of a public school teacher embracing slow schooling. Lorrie McNeill, an English teacher at Jonesborro Middle School in Atlanta, is allowing her students to freely choose the books they read this year and has tossed her required reading list out the window. No more bored kids forcing themselves to read a book they hate and sleeping through a discussion of that book, brain disengaged through the entire process. Instead, the kids in Ms. McNeill's classroom are allowed to read any book they choose, which allows for deep connection with their reading material and builds a life-long love of reading.
I am encouraged by what Ms. McNeill is doing in her classroom and hope that many other teachers follow suit. My experience with my son has been that the more freedom I give him in his reading choice, the more he reads and the more he loves to read. Shouldn't love of reading be what we most want to give our children? An opportunity to engage with a book in a deep way? To lose themselves for hours, ignoring the video games and the TV- so engrossed they would rather read than even play with their friends or eat dinner? A solid foundation built around teaching kids to love reading will allow them to read the classics down the road if they choose to, but the love of reading may be lost forever if you force the classics on them now and they hate the experience.
I suspect, rushing to stuff the classics into kids is just another way to try and get them to perform better on standardized tests, a great formula in theory, but it may not be working. In Ms. McNeill's classroom, her students performed better on standardized tests after a year of free reading choice than the year before when they were not allowed to choose. Her findings supports my thinking that when students are allowed to engage with a book they love, the learning will be of a deeper, more lasting quality. If they love what they are reading, they grasp it better than if they don't. That really is the whole premise of slow schooling. To slow down and experience learning in an intimate way in order to feel a strong connection and sense of engagement with what you are studying.