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Are contemporary children's books really this dumbed down?


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As I was posting earlier about reading lists I started checking some books in the Scholastic Book Wizard out of curiosity. I was somewhat surprised to see that the 4th grade suggested books from Great Books Academy/Angelicum are around the 5.5-7th grade level. They were all listed on the accelerated reading list as well. I know these were considered children's books when they were written so has our expectation for reading changed that much? Is the Wizard site that far off? I'm not an expert on such things but when I compared The Little House Series(4.3-5.3) to The Princess and the Goblins(7.5) and Kingsley's Water Babies(6.9) I found the difference in level about what I expected. The question then is the level accurate.

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I am always so confused by these reading level recommendations. 

 

I don't know exactly what they base the recommendations on, but I suspect it is not just vocabulary, but maybe interest? 

 

But yeah I'm with you on being confused.  I don't find the recommendations helpful at all.

re: interest level- Actually, the interest level was generally around the grade they were listed on the lists I looked at, it was just the reading level that was considerably higher.

 

I do find the lists helpful, of course they are only helpful to a certain extent as one has to be aware of their own child's level. I know that ds had read books around the same level as the lists I looked at so I'm fairly confident that I made a list suitable for him. The one book I was really anxious about was The Princess and the Goblin, as I found it a bit of a harder read due to the use of more complex sentence structure and higher/older vocabulary, however he picked it up on his own and read it in a few days time.

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Quoted from this article on NPR:  

 

 

Last year, almost all of the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12 were well below grade level. The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level.

Last year, for the first time, Renaissance did a separate study to find out what books were being assigned to high school students. "The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read," Stickney says, "has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level."

Most of the assigned books are novels, like To Kill a MockingbirdOf Mice and Men or Animal Farm. Students even read recent works like The Help and The Notebook. But in 1989, high school students were being assigned works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Bronte and Edith Wharton.

Now, with the exception of Shakespeare, most classics have dropped off the list.

 
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Quoted from this article on NPR:  

 

 

Last year, almost all of the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12 were well below grade level. The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level.

Last year, for the first time, Renaissance did a separate study to find out what books were being assigned to high school students. "The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read," Stickney says, "has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level."

Most of the assigned books are novels, like To Kill a MockingbirdOf Mice and Men or Animal Farm. Students even read recent works like The Help and The Notebook. But in 1989, high school students were being assigned works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Bronte and Edith Wharton.

Now, with the exception of Shakespeare, most classics have dropped off the list.

 

This is very interesting! Thanks for posting it. I have noticed that the grade level or lexile level of books read in high school can often be pretty low. I assumed the point of reading them then was because the content makes for interesting or enlightening discussions better suited for older students.

 

OP, we love The Princess and the Goblin. It has always been one of my dds' favorites. I like to listen to it on CD though. The British accents make it even more fun IMHO. :laugh:  

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I think the book wizard (and the lexile levels) is often way off. For younger grades, I think books assigned tend to be appropriate reading levels - sometimes high, sometimes low, depending on the school system. But then there's high school, where, as that depressing NPR article shows, they just never advance. It's sad.

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I don't know anything about reading levels but I have noted that schools really vary in what they expect from district to district and state to state. 

 

Reading levels aren't new, though - just different.  When I was in grade school back in the Dark Ages (well, not quite that far, but it would have been 1957-64), the school library didn't allow us to check out books above our grade level. I was a kid who never sneaked around or cheated, but I remember sneaking over to an older section and trying to sneak through some books that I found more interesting and more on my actual level. When I took them to the check out desk, though, the librarian forced me to return them and read something at my supposed grade level. Boring. I always thought that if God judged librarians on how much they encouraged reading, that librarian was in trouble (or the administrators who made the rule).

 

However, when I told my mom, she allowed me to take the public bus to the public library where they had no such rule and that is how I eventually discovered the wonderful world of Russian literature (I still love it) and other things.

 

BTW, my foster daughter started to take a sophomore level "honors" English class and discovered all the books were about zombies or vampires. 

 

 

 

 

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As I was posting earlier about reading lists I started checking some books in the Scholastic Book Wizard out of curiosity. I was somewhat surprised to see that the 4th grade suggested books from Great Books Academy/Angelicum are around the 5.5-7th grade level. They were all listed on the accelerated reading list as well. I know these were considered children's books when they were written so has our expectation for reading changed that much? Is the Wizard site that far off? I'm not an expert on such things but when I compared The Little House Series(4.3-5.3) to The Princess and the Goblins(7.5) and Kingsley's Water Babies(6.9) I found the difference in level about what I expected. The question then is the level accurate.

Can you include the link for the book list.? Thanks

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I was horrified to learn that in the AP English for 12th graders at our local high school, they read John Grisham and the Spark Notes version of Macbeth.  Seriously, the Spark Notes version!!!!!  

Yep. 

 

Yes, I totally think that they are dumbed down and it is scary. 

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It might be this list:

 

http://www.greatbooksacademy.org/curriculum/curriculum-book-list/

 

If so, I notice it has <I>These Happy Golden Years</I> as a second-grade book, which is ridiculous. My kid could read that now, but what's the point? She wouldn't appreciate it! Not because she's not capable, but because she doesn't have the necessary experience.

 

I'm also hoping that these are suggested books, rather than required books. Eight Shakespearean plays in 11th grade and another six in 12th? I think I read four plays in my 370-level college Shakespeare class as a senior, and I was an English major and Shakespeare fanatic. Let's remember the importance of multum, non multa.

 

Sorry - I'm all worked up!

 

Now, as for the Scholastic Book Wizard, I don't think it's particularly accurate, but I use it to try to maintain some consistency. I try not to use other reading-level evaluators and compare what Scholastic says, KWIM? I stick to just one and only use it for my own information.

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It might be this list:

 

http://www.greatbooksacademy.org/curriculum/curriculum-book-list/

 

If so, I notice it has <I>These Happy Golden Years</I> as a second-grade book, which is ridiculous. My kid could read that now, but what's the point? She wouldn't appreciate it! Not because she's not capable, but because she doesn't have the necessary experience.

 

.

That is what I found when I google it.. And serious? They expect a kindergartener to read Wind in the Willows?

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That is what I found when I google it.. And serious? They expect a kindergartener to read Wind in the Willows?

Pretty sure those are books to be read to the child. That's why "Language Arts" and "Literature" get a separate heading.

 

Those Andrew Lang fairy books are not light reading either. We own all 12. They are excellent, and if your children love fairy tales, they pretty much have them all.

 

Here is the Blue one (listed at the nursery school level):

 

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/503/503-h/503-h.htm#2H_4_0001

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The Bookwizard is consistent as far as I can tell. That makes it helpful to me regardless of any dumbing down.

 

Is there dumbing down? IMO, yes, without a doubt. It starts with the Amazon reviews you read that go something like this: Why did that picture book have to use all those big words? The age level says this book is for 3-6 year olds. I had to stop and explain like 10 words to my kid. One star. *sigh* It only gets worse as these children get older.

 

The GBA list...I don't get it. It seems way age inappropriate in both interest level and reading level - at least until about 5th grade. Not to mention that somebody has an obsession with Henty. And really the whole list seems lopsided. The website says there are 140 books in this list. I'm not counting tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are only 30 authors on there. Not my cuppa.

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There's been a general trend in the direction of more, easier reading. This is, if it's a comfort, a very old trend. Readers from 1880 are more difficult than those from 1900, which are more difficult than those from the 1920s, which are more difficult than those from the 1940s, and then things take a gigantic nosedive in the fifties-to-seventies.

 

The passages are also much longer. Children in the 1880s were not, for the most part, reading novels. They were reading passages.

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http://www.greatbooksacademy.org/curriculum/curriculum-book-list/

 

fwiw I had not looked much at the History selection and did not notice the large focus towards Henty.

 

On the literature I like their lists as my own exposure to the classics and great books have been limited so I need a little help sometimes. I understood the list to be a systematic exposure to classic books so that when they get to High School they will be ready for the Great Books. I know when I started reading to the kids my own ears and mouth was not very well trained to read the classics, I hope to give them much more exposure than I had. I do however follow their lead. Dd is not as suited for listening to longer and more in-depth stories as ds. Ds was listening to Lang and chapter books at her age, she's not quite there. She does enjoy illustrated versions of fairy tales and I try to find the best retellings I can. Both dd6 and dd3 have a fondness for Beatrix Potter though, dd6 she would carry Timmy Tiptoes around with her at 2. I imagine I will spend a lot more time w/ Milne and Potter w/ my girls than I did with him.

 

 

As I was looking up the levels I was reading about how CS Lewis and Tolkien both cited George Macdonald as a great inspiration as they loved his children's books, of course among those are The Goblin and the Princes series. I wonder now when did they read it? When was it expected reading for most educated children? It seems I recall reading from ElizabethB, our resident reading expert, that reading expectations are considerably less now then they were. I wonder how much less?

 

My son just started really reading in the last year and before that I just read to him. The gba list is fairly close to what we read in the younger ages, although at the time I had not heard of it. He would beg for more Lang in K. It does seem there are some real outliers though, like the Wind in the Willows in K rec, and imo Water Babies in 1st. I read ds about half of Water Babies in 1st and he loved it but I stopped reading as I felt that it was a bit too much for his understanding. Of the Little House Series, I did the first as a read aloud and he read Farmer Boy on his own, he didn't choose to read the others and I didn't suggest he did.

 

fwiw: My approach for Lit up until now is to keep a large bookshelf stocked w/ classic books in his room. These books are at various levels from about 1st grade simple chapter books up to probably an 8th grade reading level. I simply buy classics when I find them at Goodwill and such. He has read what he has wanted. I've seen him gravitate towards the older books more as the year has went on and the list for 4th is around the level he has been reading on, give or take, so it works for me. I do expect that he reads and at times doesn't understand everything but I also notice that he re-reads at times as well. It is still pretty low key at this point.

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Pretty sure those are books to be read to the child. That's why "Language Arts" and "Literature" get a separate heading.

 

Those Andrew Lang fairy books are not light reading either. We own all 12. They are excellent, and if your children love fairy tales, they pretty much have them all.

 

Here is the Blue one (listed at the nursery school level):

 

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/503/503-h/503-h.htm#2H_4_0001

 

that will make whole lot sense. So, the two lists are for completely different purpose. One is for reading independent (book wizard) the other is for reading to...Of course they have different levels.

 

Thanks for the link. That is awesome

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For comparison: the basic English course that you need to get pretty much any job leads (in England) to a GCSE English exam at 16 (the current school leaving age).  I just checked, and you need to study one Shakespeare, one other culture text and one anthology of poems, as well as non-fiction texts.  It's a tiny number of texts, but it is meant to be an exam for absolutely everyone.

 

The lists of Shakespeare and 'other' texts for one version of the exam are:

 

Different Cultures prose texts:

Anita and Me â€“ Meera Syal
Of Mice and Men â€“ John Steinbeck
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress â€“ Dai Sijie
To Kill a Mockingbird â€“ Harper Lee
Rani and Sukh â€“ Bali Rai
Heroes â€“ Robert Cormier
Riding the Black Cockatoo â€“ John Danalis

Shakespeare texts: 
The Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet
Macbeth

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As I was looking up the levels I was reading about how CS Lewis and Tolkien both cited George Macdonald as a great inspiration as they loved his children's books, of course among those are The Goblin and the Princes series. I wonder now when did they read it? When was it expected reading for most educated children? It seems I recall reading from ElizabethB, our resident reading expert, that reading expectations are considerably less now then they were. I wonder how much less?

 

I see Macdonald listed as a read aloud in 3rd grade and independent read in 4th - 6th grade in most places. (FWIW, I like the 1000 good books, MaterAmabilis, and Ambleside lists MUCH better.) I think that seems fairly accurate as a general rule.

 

To your deeper question, I think it is really hard to get an accurate answer. This link is to a pdf that shows American education statistics through history. Page16 (ETA: had page # wrong, sorry) has a nice graph. It shows that in 1850, 50% of white kids and 0% of non white kids were enrolled in school. That climbs up to 60% of white kids and 50% of non white kids by 1920. In 1990, 93% of children are enrolled in school. How do you compare what only half the population of kids were doing in 1900 to what all kids are doing today, kwim? That IS NOT a defense of the dumbing down that is going on, just to be clear. But in a system that is currently teaching to the LCD, it is really hard to make a comparison to the system in place 100-150 years ago. (I could insert standard 'teach your child' lecture here, but I won't bother cuz I know you already have that under control, soror. :))

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Quoted from this article on NPR:  

 

 

But in 1989, high school students were being assigned works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Emily Bronte and Edith Wharton.

Now, with the exception of Shakespeare, most classics have dropped off the list.

 

Ugh. I was in High School in 1989.  I wasn't expecting things to be THAT different now.

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I see Macdonald listed as a read aloud in 3rd grade and independent read in 4th - 6th grade in most places. (FWIW, I like the 1000 good books, MaterAmabilis, and Ambleside lists MUCH better.) I think that seems fairly accurate as a general rule.

 

To your deeper question, I think it is really hard to get an accurate answer. This link is to a pdf that shows American education statistics through history. Page16 has a nice graph. It shows that in 1850, 50% of white kids and 0% of non white kids were enrolled in school. That climbs up to 60% of white kids and 50% of non white kids by 1920. In 1990, 93% of children are enrolled in school. How do you compare what only half the population of kids were doing in 1900 to what all kids are doing today, kwim? That IS NOT a defense of the dumbing down that is going on, just to be clear. But in a system that is currently teaching to the LCD, it is really hard to make a comparison to the system in place 100-150 years ago. (I could insert standard 'teach your child' lecture here, but I won't bother cuz I know you already have that under control, soror. :))

I really like the Mater Amabilis list as well. I like how they incorporate newer books as well as older ones. I'm not as big of fan of AO though, I was thinking AO made heavy use of Henty for history(although my memory could be faulty and I'm too lazy to look through it in depth right now). It is nice to have all the different lists to pick through for your own preferences, interest and level appropriate for your own kids.

 

 

I find Laura's info as well, how do English standards compare? I would think most of our 16yo's wouldn't do very well on the GSCE. I know that my own highschool education only covered 2 of those texts listed and some Shakespeare. Dh's aunt is a High School English teacher locally and when talking to her I think they might read 4-6 complete books in a year, including contemporary works. She doesn't believe in diagramming :) Of course I don't know if she is representative of most teachers or an outlier.

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That is what I found when I google it.. And serious? They expect a kindergartener to read Wind in the Willows?

 

 

Perhaps the expectation is to read this book aloud?

:iagree:   WitW is totally a read aloud. 

 

 

While I like the GBA lists, it's based off of Dr Senior's list (int he back of The Death of Christian Culture) and we *really* like that list. Unfortunately, it's hard to find. One day I'll type it up. WitW is listed under the Nursery heading, ages 2-7.

 

Classical Homeschooling has huge lists which people like to use, but I just think that the lists are overwhelming. And keep getting added onto. 

 

Anyway, we've been collecting Dr Senior's list and we've loved every book so far (except for Henty, which gets totally ignored). 

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I find Laura's info as well, how do English standards compare? I would think most of our 16yo's wouldn't do very well on the GSCE. I know that my own highschool education only covered 2 of those texts listed and some Shakespeare. Dh's aunt is a High School English teacher locally and when talking to her I think they might read 4-6 complete books in a year, including contemporary works. She doesn't believe in diagramming :) Of course I don't know if she is representative of most teachers or an outlier.

 

I'm going to colour code the three English exams to make it clearer:

 

Just for clarity: in order to pass the English GCSE exam described above you only need to study one Shakespeare, one other book and the poetry anthology.  You have two years to do it.  So a minimum of three works over two years.

 

If you are more academically inclined, you will take another GCSE in addition (English Literature), also at 16, and also after two years of study.  For this exam - in one publisher's version - you would study some of (note, not all of - it's up to the teacher to decide how much is necessary to pass the exam/how much is possible in the two years):

 

Shakespeare:
Julius Caesar
Macbeth
Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet
 
Literary Heritage Poetry:
OCR Poetry Anthology
Robert Browning
Geoffrey Chaucer
Thomas Hardy
Wilfred Owen
Christina Rossetti
Shakespeare’s Sonnets
 
Modern Drama:
The History Boys
Hobson’s Choice
A View from a Bridge
An Inspector Calls
Educating Rita
 
Prose From Different Cultures:
Of Mice and Men
To Kill a Mockingbird
Anita and Me
The Joy Luck Club
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Tsotsi
 
Literary Heritage Prose
Pride and Prejudice
Silas Marner
Lord of the Flies
The Withered Arm and Other Wessex Tales
Animal Farm
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
 
Contemporary Poetry: OCR Poetry
Anthology
Simon Armitage
Gillian Clarke
Wendy Cope
Carol-Ann Duffy
Seamus Heaney
Benjamin Zephaniah
Journey’s End
 
Probably a minimum of six texts over two years, but it's a bit hard to tell from the website.
 
If you are not interested in English, you drop it at sixteen, after taking the GCSE exams.  If you are interested, then you continue on for another two years study of English to A level, covering at least one from (in one publisher's version) each of these two sections:
 
Poetry and Prose 1800–1945
Set texts are as follows:
 
Section A: Poetry
Robert Browning
Emily Dickinson
Edward Thomas
W.B. Yeats
 
Section B: Prose
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre
Henry James – The Turn of the Screw
Oscar Wilde – The Picture of Dorian Gray
Joseph Conrad – The Secret Agent
Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway
 
Plus:
 
Candidates are required to cover three post-1900 texts. Of these three:
• at least two must be literary texts;
• one literary text must have been first published or performed after 1990;
• one literary text may be a [significant/influential] text in translation;
• one text may be a work of literary criticism or cultural commentary.
Literary texts may be chosen from within the same genre or across genres

 

Plus:

 

At least one of:

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Antony and Cleopatra
King Lear
The Tempest
 
Plus:
 
At least one from each of these sections:
 
Drama
John Ford – ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore
Ben Jonson – Volpone
John Webster – The White Devil
Richard Brinsley Sheridan – The Rivals
 
Poetry
Geoffrey Chaucer – The Wife of Bath’s Prologue 
and Tale
John Milton – Paradise Lost Book Nine
Andrew Marvell – Selected Poems
William Blake – Songs of Innocence and 
Experience

 

So a minimum of eight texts over two years, I think.

 

Calvin is actually working to a slightly different system (IB) but the above is the standard English structure.

 

I don't think that many texts are studied, but the texts themselves aren't too bad.  There's a definite preference for short though: Silas Marner, Animal Farm, etc.  Each text is studied in quite a lot of detail: you might be asked about character development in King Lear, or about use of language in setting scene, or about the portrayal of women, or stagecraft, or....

 

As we don't have transcripts, there's no avoiding exams if you want to go to university.

 

L

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There's been a general trend in the direction of more, easier reading. This is, if it's a comfort, a very old trend. Readers from 1880 are more difficult than those from 1900, which are more difficult than those from the 1920s, which are more difficult than those from the 1940s, and then things take a gigantic nosedive in the fifties-to-seventies.

 

The passages are also much longer. Children in the 1880s were not, for the most part, reading novels. They were reading passages.

That's really interesting.
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"The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level."

 

Sorry, but I had to repost this for the people who kept claiming The Hunger Games were well written and good reading.  They are poorly written.  That is a fact!

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"The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level."

 

Sorry, but I had to repost this for the people who kept claiming The Hunger Games were well written and good reading.  They are poorly written.  That is a fact!

 

"Poorly written" and "written on a fifth-grade reading level" are two different things. There are good works of literature written for children.

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There's been a general trend in the direction of more, easier reading. This is, if it's a comfort, a very old trend. Readers from 1880 are more difficult than those from 1900, which are more difficult than those from the 1920s, which are more difficult than those from the 1940s, and then things take a gigantic nosedive in the fifties-to-seventies.

 

The passages are also much longer. Children in the 1880s were not, for the most part, reading novels. They were reading passages.

This is something I've been looking into recently, and I just wanted to add a couple of points.

 

1) Before 1915 or so, the passages in school readers were meant to be read aloud, all the way through high school (at which time "reading" was renamed "oratory").   The introduction of silent reading in the classroom went hand in hand with the development of multiple choice reading comprehension tests.  These innovations were part of the efficiency movement of that era.   As a result, the teaching emphasis changed dramatically, from reading fluently with expression, to reading quickly for content.  

 

This was a revolutionary change in pedagogy, though it's rarely talked about by the John Taylor Gatto types.    It's why you'll likely see an especially big shift in the contents of American public school readers between, say, 1905 and 1920, because their passages were selected with very different purposes in mind.   For example, the older second and third-grade readers were very heavy on poems by Whittier and Longfellow.  Although fairly young children could learn to recite them clearly and rhythmically, they couldn't always grasp all the shades of meaning at an adult level (and certainly not without help), so these poems were deemed unsuitable for independent reading and filling-in-the-bubbles.   Thus, the "all-ages" classics were replaced by literature written specifically for children, and often written expressly for the school readers. 

 

2) The study of English literature had completely different origins from these "reading lessons."    It developed as an extra subject in classical grammar schools.  For a long time, the emphasis was on a historical survey of the names of the major authors, their works, and their significance, without much attention to reading the works themselves.  Given that the students were already up to their eyebrows with the Latin and Greek classics, it was held to be a waste of time to study something as lightweight as Pope or Shakespeare in school, when they could read it in their leisure time.

 

The rise of English studies went along with the decline of classical education, which started in the mid-1800s in most places (though not until the 1920s or so for Catholic schools).   All of the earliest English teachers were classicists.  Some emphasized the detailed study of the language found in the works (e.g., by parsing).   Others focused on the historical context of the author's life, and allusions to Latin and Greek culture.    Then there were a growing number of more "progressive" teachers who were mostly interested in drawing out the student's personal response and appreciation of the works.   We can see the same sort of confusion and controversy in high school and college English departments to this day.    Other than teaching composition, there really is no clear reason why the subject should exist at all, except to fill the hole that was left after the demise of classics.   And the pioneers in the field had to come up with ways to make it intellectually challenging, because simply reading great literature in the students' own language would have been too easy.  

 

Of course, for many students in our time, just making it through one of these works is a struggle in itself.  I'm not sure if this is because of individual aptitude (given that only about 5-10% of students went on to secondary school in the old days), or a less literate society in general, or both. 

 

The purpose of John Senior's book list (parts of which can be seen in the preview here, starting at p. 183) was to give some suggestions for "good books" -- from nursery rhymes all the way to Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, and Shakespeare -- that would give students a literary and cultural formation to prepare them to approach the "great books" in adulthood.   I'm not really fond of what Angelicum has done with the list.  As others have said, their emphasis and pacing is quite peculiar in some places.   But at least they're getting people to think and talk about the subject.    :001_smile:    

 

Thomas Fleming also has a list (still in progress) that I've found helpful.  There's probably something in there that someone will find objectionable, but at least he avoids the Tarzan fixation.  :D

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Another trend which has not yet been mentioned is toward early academics. The McGuffy primer was written for children around age 7. Children started school much later and were expected to proceed more quickly. The third grade reader my mother taught mefrom put me at a 7th grade reading level in the early 80s.it was intended for children aged 10-12, by my estimation.

now children begin primers at 3-5 years, stay in them for up to 5 years and are expected to be reading chapter books -a recent invention, resulting from cheap printing- by age 6. Very different expectations.

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Another trend which has not yet been mentioned is toward early academics. The McGuffy primer was written for children around age 7. Children started school much later and were expected to proceed more quickly. The third grade reader my mother taught mefrom put me at a 7th grade reading level in the early 80s.it was intended for children aged 10-12, by my estimation.

now children begin primers at 3-5 years, stay in them for up to 5 years and are expected to be reading chapter books -a recent invention, resulting from cheap printing- by age 6. Very different expectations.

 

I don't doubt what you're saying, but do you remember where you got your info from? I'd love to read what it said about McGuffy. 

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This is something I've been looking into recently, and I just wanted to add a couple of points.

 

1) Before 1915 or so, the passages in school readers were meant to be read aloud, all the way through high school (at which time "reading" was renamed "oratory").   The introduction of silent reading in the classroom went hand in hand with the development of multiple choice reading comprehension tests.  This was one of many manifestations of the efficiency movement of that era.   As a result, the teaching emphasis changed dramatically, from reading fluently with expression, to reading quickly for content.  

 

This was a revolutionary change in pedagogy, though it's rarely talked about by the John Taylor Gatto types.    It's why you'll likely see an especially big shift in the contents of American public school readers between, say, 1905 and 1920, because their passages were selected with very different purposes in mind.   For example, the older second and third-grade readers were very heavy on poems by Whittier and Longfellow.  Although fairly young children could learn to recite them clearly and rhythmically, they couldn't always grasp all the shades of meaning at an adult level (and certainly not without help), so these poems were deemed unsuitable for independent reading and filling-in-the-bubbles.   Thus, the "all-ages" classics were replaced by literature written specifically for children, and often written expressly for the school readers. 

 

2) The study of English literature had completely different origins from these "reading lessons."    It developed as an extra subject in classical grammar schools.  For a long time, the emphasis was on a historical survey of the names of the major authors, their works, and their significance, without much attention to reading the works themselves.  Given that the students were already up to their eyebrows with the Latin and Greek classics, it was held to be a waste of time to study something as lightweight as Pope or Shakespeare in school, when they could read it in their leisure time.

 

The rise of English studies went along with the decline of classical education, which started in the mid-1800s in most places (though not until the 1920s or so for Catholic schools).   All of the earliest English teachers were classicists.  Some emphasized the detailed study of the language found in the works (e.g., by parsing).   Others focused on the historical context of the author's life, and allusions to Latin and Greek culture.    Then there was a growing number of more "progressive" teachers who were mostly interested in drawing out the student's personal response and appreciation of the works.   We can see the same sort of confusion and controversy in high school and college English departments to this day.    Other than teaching composition, there really is no clear reason why the subject should exist at all, except to fill the hole that was left after the demise of classics.   And the pioneers in the field had to come up with ways to make it intellectually challenging, because simply reading great literature in the students' own language would have been too easy.  

 

Of course, for many students in our time, just making it through one of these works is a struggle in itself.  I'm not sure if this is because of individual aptitude (given that only about 5-10% of students went on to secondary school in the old days), or a less literate society in general, or both. 

 

The purpose of John Senior's book list (parts of which can be seen in the preview here, starting at p. 183) was to give some suggestions for "good books" -- from nursery rhymes all the way to Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, and Shakespeare -- that would give students a literary and cultural formation to prepare them to approach the "great books" in adulthood.   I'm not really fond of what Angelicum has done with the list.  As others have said, their emphasis and pacing is quite peculiar in some places.   But at least they're getting people to think and talk about the subject.    :001_smile:    

 

Thomas Fleming also has a list (still in progress) that I've found helpful.  There's probably something in there that someone will find objectionable, but at least he avoids the Tarzan fixation.  :D

 

 

I actually bought and read Tarzan...and I LOVED it. What is man, in big, huge, bold, questions. Let's compare him to other men, and animals and ... it was really fantastic. I can't wait to get the next one. 

 

The writing is not...elegant by today's standards (even back then), and some parts are just plot contrivances to move the story forward, but I actually loved it. (Not as much as Brideshead Revisited, say, but for a kid? I Can see why the Burroughs captured the imagination with Tarzan.)

 

Do I have to hand in my homeschooling badge? 

 

I was actually so amazed at how good it was that I said so on FB and got a whole bunch of other homeschooler moms to read it and curse me (he's an expert at the cliffhanger) because they had to wait for the next one. :p

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Another trend which has not yet been mentioned is toward early academics. The McGuffy primer was written for children around age 7. Children started school much later and were expected to proceed more quickly. The third grade reader my mother taught mefrom put me at a 7th grade reading level in the early 80s.it was intended for children aged 10-12, by my estimation.

now children begin primers at 3-5 years, stay in them for up to 5 years and are expected to be reading chapter books -a recent invention, resulting from cheap printing- by age 6. Very different expectations.

 

Which version of the McGuffeys are you speaking of? If it's the most common, the 1869 version, I don't think you're correct. While it was far from unheard of to start school at seven (children began earlier in England but in the US the pressure has always been towards less and later schooling, since children were economically valuable). But children did not progress according to age, and could theoretically progress quite quickly. The children in the stories of the third McGuffey are younger than twelve. The object would certainly be to finish the full set of six before progressing to secondary school.

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"The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level."

 

Sorry, but I had to repost this for the people who kept claiming The Hunger Games were well written and good reading. They are poorly written. That is a fact!

Do I understand correctly? You are asserting both that reading level and quality of a novel are directly related and there are no other variables of significance?

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I actually bought and read Tarzan...and I LOVED it. What is man, in big, huge, bold, questions. Let's compare him to other men, and animals and ... it was really fantastic. I can't wait to get the next one. 

 

The writing is not...elegant by today's standards (even back then), and some parts are just plot contrivances to move the story forward, but I actually loved it. (Not as much as Brideshead Revisited, say, but for a kid? I Can see why the Burroughs captured the imagination with Tarzan.)

 

Do I have to hand in my homeschooling badge? 

 

No attack on Tarzan or his admirers was intended.   ;)   We have some of the books ourselves, and I'll gladly buy more if people like them.   I'm just not convinced that the whole series qualifies as "by common consent part of the ordinary cultural matter essential for an English-speaking person to grow in" (as Dr. Senior phrased it). 

 

To make it up to you, though, I just discovered that Crisis magazine posted a version of his list on their web site last year -- and, mysteriously, it's a bit more extensive than the one in the book.   Enjoy!  :001_smile:

 

Will Rascals Defend Our Civilization... And What Books Will They Read?

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"The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level."

 

Sorry, but I had to repost this for the people who kept claiming The Hunger Games were well written and good reading. They are poorly written. That is a fact!

That is some odd reasoning there. By that measure, since the OP mentioned they straddled a fourth to fifth grade level, the Little House books are even worse in terms of writing.

 

Yeah, not going to buy that.

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No attack on Tarzan or his admirers was intended.   ;)   We have some of the books ourselves, and I'll gladly buy more if people like them.   I'm just not convinced that the whole series qualifies as "by common consent part of the ordinary cultural matter essential for an English-speaking person to grow in" (as Dr. Senior phrased it). 

 

To make it up to you, though, I just discovered that Crisis magazine posted a version of his list on their web site last year -- and, mysteriously, it's a bit more extensive than the one in the book.   Enjoy!  :001_smile:

 

Will Rascals Defend Our Civilization... And What Books Will They Read?

 

I love that article! Good one. :D 

 

And yeah, I'm not sure about the whole series, either. Although I've not read it. 

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I was horrified to learn that in the AP English for 12th graders at our local high school, they read John Grisham and the Spark Notes version of Macbeth.  Seriously, the Spark Notes version!!!!!  

 

For those who might be unfamiliar with it, the SparkNotes version is a series called No Fear Shakespeare.  It has the text as written on one page and a "translation" into modern text on the facing page.  So it's not abridged.  Personally, I prefer for my kids to develop an ear for Shakespeare's English, which is not all that hard to do once you've read a few plays, but most schools aren't making time to read more than one.  (Including my younger son's b&m school, which is using...you guessed it...the SparkNotes version of Macbeth!)

 

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For those who might be unfamiliar with it, the SparkNotes version is a series called No Fear Shakespeare.  It has the text as written on one page and a "translation" into modern text on the facing page.  So it's not abridged.  Personally, I prefer for my kids to develop an ear for Shakespeare's English, which is not all that hard to do once you've read a few plays, but most schools aren't making time to read more than one.  (Including my younger son's b&m school, which is using...you guessed it...the SparkNotes version of Macbeth!)

 

 

 

I'm glad you mentioned that - I didn't know that was Sparknotes.  I got the No Fear edition of Julius Caesar from our library for dd, and she liked seeing both versions together.  She appreciated the original language, but sometimes got "stuck" and having the modern language right there was helpful.  It definitely wasn't abridged, and I thought a good transition from the Lamb's Shakespeare to the "real thing." 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was horrified to learn that in the AP English for 12th graders at our local high school, they read John Grisham and the Spark Notes version of Macbeth.  Seriously, the Spark Notes version!!!!!  

 

 

Wow, that is appalling.  We read The Inferno, Jane Eyre, Brave New World, The Tempest, and several other things.  Grisham?

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We are homeschooling our younger dd (pulled last year) while our older daughter continues in the public school system. Like all things related to education, quality of teaching varies greatly. She took honors English and read Romeo and Juliet - the real, unabridged, not translated version. They also read passages from other Shakespeare works and quite a bit of Robert Frost. They read the first part of the Odyssey (again, unabridged) while having to choose aspects of the original and relate it to contemporary works. And they read Frankenstein. Not dumbed down for a 14/15 year old IMO.

 

For sophomore honors English, she had to choose from a list of books including authors such as Bronte that must be read, fully annotated in the book, and complete a written book report turned in a week before school starts.

 

She did say that the reading and writing requirements in the regular classes are much less rigorous, but I am pleased with what I've seen so far in all of her classes (which are all honors). Overall, the quality of her public school education has been strong and suits her learning style well. My younger dd is a different story, though.

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