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Why High School is Like Reading

I'm exploring a new project, which shall remain nameless for the nonce (nickname--NFN). In the process, it seemed advisable to explore a subject area I remember taking in high school. Although remember might be the wrong verb.

I can describe the space--a small science lab with the requisite black-topped benches, bunsen burner connections, cabinets of equipment, and tall stools. I can describe the teacher--tweed jacket, balding with a longish fringe of what was once likely ginger hair, and a trimmed beard that matched--the closest thing to professorial in the school. I can name a few of the students--Carolyn, Val, Mark, Paul.... I can describe one experiment, but only, I suspect, because it was a repeat of an experiment we had done in 8th grade.

And that's the thing.

I remember nothing about what we learned. Okay, so maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration. But if I do recall something, it is only the vaguest of vague general principles.

I've long known that I didn't really learn much in high school, despite the grades I received--grades that allowed me to attend an excellent college. (In my case, grades were definitely no indicators of learning.) At one point, I'm sure I thought it was because I wasn't taught very well. It was, after all, the '70s, and rural Vermont.

But today, digging around a science curriculum and finding little that was familiar, I also realized why. I was so caught up in my own misery--isolated, alone, and, though I didn't recognize it at the time, angry--that I didn't have the mental space for real learning. English and music were the classes I most enjoyed, because they allowed me escape. (Not that I learned that much about music as a system, alas.)

This realization lead to another: The triad of teacher-curriculum-student bears more than a passing resemblance to the triad of author-book/story-reader. Just as the teacher can't guarantee student learning, an author can't guarantee reader enjoyment. Not every class is for every student, not every book is for every reader. All we can do is have faith that our work will connect with some reader, somewhere, as long as we use all our craft to tell the best story we know.

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Reading Raves

Nation (Terry Pratchett), Men of Salt (Michael Benanav), Paper Towns (John Green), Lavinia (Ursula K. LeGuin), Weight (Jeanette Winterson), The Wizard, the Witch & Two Girls from Jersey (Lisa Papademetriou), Beastly (Alex Flinn), Hogfather (Terry Pratchett), London Calling (Edward Bloor), Before I Die (Jenny Downham), My Mother the Cheerleader (Robert Sharenow), Antsy Does Time (Neal Shuesterman), Against Medical Advice (James Patterson & Hal Friedman), Wait for Me (An Na), Doppelganger (David Stahler), The Year We Disappeared (Cylin Busby, John Busby); Little Brother (Cory Doctorow); King of Screwups (K.L. Going), Tyrell (Coe Booth), Goth Girl Rising (Barry Lyga), Bad Apple (Laura Ruby), The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson), Hold Still (Nina LaCour), Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green & David Levitahn), Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto (Eric Luper), Ostrich Boys (Keith Gray), Front & Center (Catherine Gilbert Murdock), Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler), I Shall Wear Midnight (Terry Pratchett), Tales of the Madman Underground (John Barnes), Please Ignore Vera Dietz (A.S. King), Sex: A Book for Teens (Nikol Hasler), The Girl Who Became a Beatle (Greg Taylor), Crazy (Han Nolan), Pull (B.A. Binns), Pearl (Jo Knowles)
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