Thursday, July 26, 2007

Junie B. Jones Will Fail Freshman Comp (actually, given grade inflation, she'll probably get a B, but that's another topic for another time)

I haven't done a post on education in a long time. I suppose I've been away from the classroom.

But an article in today's NYT caught my eye, and I may be inspired to write my first ever letter back to them.

The article is about parents who wish to ban the Junie B. Jones books, or -- at the least -- prevent them from ever falling into their own children's hands.

Junie B. is a spunky little seven-year-old who has thus far narrated 27 short books about her life and adventures. I've actually read one of her books, because I was curious to know what the fuss was all about.

Parents want to protect their children from Junie B. for three reasons: 1. she disobeys authority, 2. she answers back to people, and 3. she uses nonstandard (or "incorrect") spelling and grammar.

Most of the focus is on #3. This actually delights me, because I am so impressed that parents are concerned that a book might cause their children to absorb poor English.

The NYT and Sample English Doctoral Student Jill Ratzan -- were they really only able to find a grad student to give the expert testimony??? -- deflect the argument as follows:

Just because they read "funnest" doesn't mean they'll learn to say that. I've never heard a kid speak in a Yorkshire accent because they read The Secret Garden or say "Have you any wool?"

(Obviously Ratzan never knew a kid like me, or my sister, or my best friend from elementary school. We used to play Secret Garden and Little Women and all of that and would imitate the dialogue incessantly.)

But Ratzan seems to be missing the mark here. She's only making the connection between reading and speech.

Most people, when put to it, can speak. Speech, and its associated grammatical patterns, are easily absorbed. They're absorbed because we are surrounded by speech.

But there is another, equally important connection: that between reading and writing. I've taught my fair share of undergrads who can speak without any lapses in grammar or syntax, but cannot write a coherent paragraph.

And, strangely enough, there seems to be a missed connection between the two. When undergrads visit my office hours to ask about ways to improve their papers, I often have them read the first several sentences aloud. Or I pick a particularly mangled sentence and ask them to read it.

"Do you hear what is wrong?"

A few get it, but many say "no." Then I ask them to tell me what they are trying to say with the sentence. The spoken result is nearly always clearer than the written one.

My point is that speaking well seems to be a separate activity from writing well; that many people grow into adulthood learning how to speak coherently, but far fewer seem to grow up learning how to write eloquently and understandably.

And this, I think, has a direct correlation with what is read in childhood. We learn about semicolons, for example, by experiencing them; by reading them, becoming immersed in them, and finally understanding (on an intuitive level rather than a punctuation-test one) how they are used.

(Learning about grammar in ninth grade is about as useful as learning about French; it will rarely be mastered that late.)

And Junie B. does not use semicolons, or parallel structure, or subject-verb agreement. But Ramona does, as do Anne and Alice and Tom Sawyer. Even the Babysitters' Club provides readers with clearly presented ideas, even if the ideas themselves are a little dim.

(BTW -- the NYT poses the argument that Tom and Huck used slang and incorrect English and somehow generations of kids turned out all right. But Tom, at least, had Twain as omniscient narrator, telling about his adventures in slightly more standardized prose so that his comical errors might become even more prominent and pointed. Huck, as the sequel, lets Mr. Finn promenade his English-butchering exploits but assumes, perhaps, that the reader is already familiar with the regularities of the language and thus can enjoy the fun.)

I'm not at all advocating banned books. I would be the last person to suggest banning a book. I might suggest, instead, that publishers stop publishing the equivalent of literary junk food, but I can't even justify doing that because I am such a fan of the biggest junk food of all (comics).

So I suppose I can only suggest that perhaps the parents have it right -- that they should limit their children's exposure to Junie B. Give them Ramona instead; they're essentially the same stories (young girl gets into silly mishaps) but much better written. And any kid who can read at a Junie B. level can read Ramona the Pest.

What do you all think? And for the members of Team Parent: what have you done with your children to encourage reading, and what books have you promoted?


Anonymous said...


I don't know...I grew up being allowed to read pretty much anything I could understand, so 1940s copies of Readers Digest (my father had a huge collection) were as familiar to me as the works of Enid Blyton. As an adult I find books with too much dialect boring to read.

As for my kids, my son (7) loves reading and reads some Junie B. but he finds them rather silly, he prefers Ramona. My daughter (5) isn't much of a reader, she'd rather play than sit and read or be read to, but that said, I don't think I would ban these books from my house. I think my kids are exposed to a wide enough variety of books that some junk food is acceptable.


Blue said...

Thanks, Bitterlemons -- that seems a sound philosophy.

1940s Reader's Digest was a bit more literary than today's, yes? I remember my grandmother having a collection of Reader's Digest books which were actually condensed versions of actual books... or is that different from the magazine?

Anonymous said...

The amount can a company legally cost to let a policy holder out of his car insurance policy?
Exactly how much does your agency cost when an individual needs to cancel and how much pressure would you use to hold them?
What are some ideas something like that we can say if our customer has several months still left on his existing automotive coverage? Definitely, we are not going to hold back until his renewal comes due each time.

Anonymous said...

A shared spider's web hosting advantage or effective hosting service or derive host refers to a web hosting service where diverse websites reside on anyone snare server connected to the Internet. Each placement "sits" on its own allotment, or section/place on the server, to regard it detach from other sites. This is generally the most close-fisted choice owing hosting, as many people allocation the entire bring in of server maintenance.

Anonymous said...

Hello. Facebook takes a [url=]online blackjack[/url] punt move in reverse on 888 casino freight: Facebook is expanding its efforts to mete out real-money gaming to millions of British users after announcing a grab with with the online gambling companions 888 Holdings.And Bye.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

[url=]sac longchamp moins cher[/url] Quite the opposite. It is as long as your standard nappy bag, the difference is it is deep and it is so well organised in design. Customers are always pleasantly surprised by it's size.. Add in some rice to the mixture and combine Excellent Quality Mulberry Tony Laptop Briefcase Black for Men,Buy cheap Mulberry bags from Mulberry uk official factory shop with your hands. You will know that you have placed enough herbs if you can smell the rice. Apart from the herbs, you can also use potpourri.
[url=]longchamp soldes[/url] No woman's suit pocket is meant to hold her belongings. Every bulge would endanger the slim line and the smart effect. So women continue to carry handbags. The other remarkable thing is that it was being used by a senior citizen some 70 - 80 years young. If digital devices are now easily manipulated by the last generation the engineers must be doing something remarkable. Of computers, the DT video also makes note of an upcoming announcement on Chic Style Mulberry Women's Bayswater Shoulder Black Bag,and find the best and fashion Mulberry handbags with high quality. the Mac Mini (possibly on 10/23 when the iPad Mini reveal is expected)..
[url=]sac longchamp[/url] A very important factor often overlooked when choosing a camera bag is the 'Zip'. Look for Bags with big tooth zips. These type are less likely to jam or stick if they get damp or dirty. You have to mail your business name, contact number, address-ID of your tax to the corresponding companies website from which you want to Covetable Mulberry Outlet Medium Alexa Leather Satchel Light Coffee Bag supply cheap and is save up to 80% off buy handbags in wholesale. Minimum amount is fixed commonly by most of the companies for each order. Credit cards are acceptable by some companies and some doesn't accept checks of personal or companies. Whatever trend you feel you have, you always find yourself. As an example with summer season manner bags, it was eventually deliberately built for those that have several tastes and additionally enjoys. Trend weapons like summer season manner bags have been by design built for specified people, these are just like this lost fecal material this dilemna in our lifetime, once we find them they fit properly and each 1 contains a purpose to experience in life, for some provides some of our designs a few sides but for some others the idea contributes to much better more vital purpose enjoy, raising people assurance and also experiencing because their own successful enchantment, that if theyre being dressed in the following product, they have a superb morning..