Which child do you think is more likely to become a lifelong learner and love reading until the day he heads up to that big bookstore in the sky?
a) the child for whom reading is an unending series of tedious worksheets followed by vacuous questions or the form "Which of the following statements would the author be most likely to agree?"
b) the kid who cuddles up with his dad on the couch and reads "Spider-Man" comics for hours until they get into a raucous squabble about whether the Fantastic Four could have beaten the Avengers so they go out in the backyard and play one-on-one soccer until the ball gets stuck going back and forth between their legs a mile a minute and they both start laughing irrepressibly for no reason to the point where they both fall on the ground howling with the hilarity of it all and the boy says, "It's funny how much fun this is, huh, dad?" and before you tell me that children need to practice for standardized tests because there are college admission exams in their future, let me hasten to remind you that there are unspeakable medical procedures in your future but I don't see you drinking that gallon of horrific pineapple-flavored liquid for "practice" and yes, I am quite aware that this sentence is a run-on, but you take my point.
Because as my grandmother often remarked, "You're a long time dead.
Before we shuffle off this mortal coil, shouldn't we have some connections with our kids? Some years hence, when you're drooling into your napkin at the assisted living facility, don't you want to be thinking back on the comic books, the one-on-one soccer, and the disputation on Reed Richards versus Tony Stark as the most brilliant inventor in the comic book universe?
Or stated another way, where do the memories come from?
Remember the time your nine-year-old son was exhausted from a long day at school and lacrosse practice and just wanted to cuddle up with you on the couch and hear a made-up story about dinosaurs or astronauts but instead you reminded him that he had worksheets to do for homework?
Nah. Probably not.
The hours spent reading comic books on the couch and the one-on-one soccer games are emblazoned in memory. The worksheets, not so much.
We all want our kids to be able to read. The question is how we help them to acquire the skill. Just like a man who loves his job will never work a day in his life, a child who loves learning will more likely be able to study the requisite 14 hours a day necessary to score well enough on the Medical College Admissions Test to become a doctor. The child who has only been exposed to "passages" who has never chosen a book just for the sheer joy of finding out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?! Again, not so much.
After 37 years of teaching and counseling kids and parents, I am convinced that an afternoon spent reading that which is intrinsically interesting beats the heck out of not paying any attention to enforced curriculum
You could argue that the kids who love the infinitely intricate plots and wonderfully stable characters of Harry Potter are more likely to be successful in the classroom. I would argue that questions of the form "In line 237, 'vicissitude' most closely means which of the following?" make me want to hurry out behind the band and bury all testing material.
I would replace "three-minute record" in Springsteen's, "we learned more from a three-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school" with "Spider-man #33." The plots of those comics can lead directly to Jane Austen and Henry Fielding.
And speaking of Spider-man #33, what happened to all those great comic books I read in the 1960s, those great stories to which I attribute my love of all things literary? Lost tragically, I'm afraid. As it happens, I'm trying to recreate my collection for subsequent generations of Altshulers. If you have old Marvel comic books-specifically Spider-Man issues from #1 to #83 (about the time in my life when I moved on to more well known forms of literature,) I would be pleased to purchase them from you. Respond to this email and let's chat.