Lessons People Learn from Books
Publication Date: 2015-10-02
This is from "A Not-So-Tearful Farewell to William Bennett," Phi Delta Kappan, September 1988.
Secretary of Education William Bennett told the audience in Allentown,Pennsylvania, "I won't be putting out Bill Bennett's list of books for the American people. But if anyone asks me what I think worth reading, I am happy to give my opinion--which includes works by authors ranging from Homer to William Shakespeare to Mark Twain." Since Bennett refers to the same half-dozen children's books again and again in his speeches, I asked him, "Does your recommendation that elementary students be exposed to the great works of literature, works of worthy moral message, include any works published in this century? Do you have any books published after, say, Heidi to recommend to elementary students?"
And when a fourth-grade teacher asked her class if they remembered what the book was about, here's what they said:
This is pretty powerful stuff, and no teachers who reads a lot of good books with her students will be surprised by the children's insights. Of some 80 children who were asked about the meaning of the book, only one first-grader agreed with Secretary Bennett, saying that the lesson was, "Listen to your mom." Most children got far more out of the book.
Perhaps our new secretary of education will visit classrooms, asking children about Where the Wild Things Are and other matters that they care about. and maybe the new secretary will discover one of the most important things a teacher ever finds out: although children always learn something, they often don't learn what you think you taught them.
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