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Monday, February 07, 2011

On sending kids to school dressed as fictional characters

Tracey Thorn was tweeting this morning about how irritating she finds the fashion for schools encouraging children to come dressed as fictional characters in the hope that this will encourage them to read. My wife, who's a teacher, gets equally tense when this day rolls around in her school calendar. It's nothing to do with reading. Literacy, possibly, but not reading.

For years now schools have been busting a gut to externalise the reading experience. They pretend that reading's exciting in the same way that games are exciting. It's not. There is no indication that covering the classroom walls with pictures of fictional characters is likely to make children want to go in a corner, shut themselves off from human society and lose themselves in the book that the character came from. I'm not sure there's any connection. It seems to me that the two experiences are entirely different. One is social. The other is solitary. One is easy. The other is quite hard. It's not like listening to a story. It's more like telling yourself a story. There is a whole world of difference between reading Tolkien and watching some expensive re-enactment of its most action-packed moments. Reading is hard.

The really hard thing about reading is starting. It involves deciding that there is nothing else you could be doing with your time that is better than lowering yourself into a book. This applies whether you're nine or ninety. It applies to you this evening as you decide to spend an hour watching some adequate TV programme rather than turning it off and reading that book that you know is considerably more than adequate.