Over the past two weeks I have attended two very different education conferences. One was AASL—The American Association of School Librarians; the other was NYSCATE—New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education. If I had just attended the first one, I would have thought we authors were doing really well. Many people recognized me from my nametag—a heady experience. (Although not everyone recognized my name, a sufficient number did, so I felt like I’ve made some progress over these years.) At the second conference, I was anonymous although my session: “Authors Collaborating with Teachers and Students” was particularly well attended. Obviously, librarians know about and value authors. Technology teachers have a lot to learn.
This conclusion was not news to me. Four or five years ago, I did my very first videoconference (Skype-type visit) with a school in Pennsylvania. I had been hired by the tech teacher who was looking for something of educational value for her classroom-teacher colleagues. Although my presentation wasn’t about any particular book (it’s called “Science Surprises”) I did mention that some of the tricks we were doing were in my book We Dare You! The tech teacher’s evaluation of my presentation was not a rave. She said something like, “I didn’t hire you to do a book commercial.” When I explained that writing books was what I did, she countered that she wanted me to present material that wasn’t in my books. I mentally sputtered a protest: “But my best stuff is in my books..” My take-away is that you have to set up the proper expectations for a program, especially for people who don’t get what authors are about. And there are a lot of them out there.
According to the Jenkins Group, a book publishing services firm, only 30% of Americans read books. Less than 15% read books on any regular basis. One third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Forty-two percent of college grads never read another book after college. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year and 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. Fifty-seven percent of new books are not read to completion and half of those are not read past page 18. I would be curious to know how much teachers read. If a child asks a question on a subject that the teacher doesn’t know the answer to, does the teacher suggest that the child look up the answer on Google or get a book on the subject? When it comes to teaching content, does the teacher rely on a textbook or explore the availability of other books for children on the same subject? We authors and readers of this blog live in a bubble. Books are so ingrained in our lives we can’t imagine living without them. But if we are going to produce a generation of college and career ready students, as per the CCSS, we are going to have to sell our non-book-reading colleagues on the value of books. Here are a few suggestions:
Technology teachers and their students might want to read:
Technology by Clive Gifford
Physical education teachers and their students might want to read:
Fourth Down and Inches by Carla Killough McClafferty
Social workers and students who have anger issues might want to read:
Peace by Wendy Anderson Halperin
A music teacher might want every member of the school orchestra to read
The Young Musician’s Survival Guide by Amy Nathan
An art teacher might want students to read:
Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.
Orthopedists and school nurses might want to include my book, Your Body Battles a Broken Bone in their waiting rooms.
For every situation, discipline, or topic, there may exist a wonderful children’s book that will not only shed new light on the subject but also foster an interest in learning more. It’s time we left our own echo-chamber and became a part of the national education conversation. Books not only answer questions but open up possibilities for every individual. It’s time they were rediscovered.