Strong Readers and Those Who Read
This is the first of two vacation reflections about identification, about the gap between an activity and the identity. First up is “reader”
The eldest of the young cousins** was complaining about school and summer reading, in a tone exclusive to 7th graders two days clear of school. “It’s so stupid, because I read at a 1050, and that means I have to read books that are 1100 or harder, and there just aren’t any!” In that instant, Lexile Rank invades my vacation.
Teased out of the adolescent run-on, the middle school Catch-22 as follows. Young cousin must read two books over the summer, one fiction and one non-fiction, of the appropriately challenging Lexile rank. However, the diagnostic testing has placed him at a reading level several hundred points above all the common/popular/interesting books that he read in 7th grade. Books suggested by adults don’t’ have readily available Lexile scores, and the few that do score surprisingly low. With a straight face, he’ll proclaim that his reading level “is like a 12th grader” and then finish the sentence with “and that means there’s no books for me to read.”
ASIDE: Lexile, as an algorithm, is dumb. Huckleberry Finn scores in the 980, Prince and the Pauper is an 840, but Mrs. freakin’ PiggleWiggle is 1070? Lexile scores are completely content blind, biasing it to non-fiction with esoteric vocabulary that’s dry as dirt and unsuitable for a 12 year old. Whatever value teachers may have found from Lexile as an analysis tool is completely lost in this craptastic sea of third-order effects.
The easter egg hunt for worthwhile books in this arbitrary Lexile range occupied Jodi for an angry hour. But when I asked the cousin what books he wanted to find, his only answer was “hard.” In this scrum, he’s lost any sense of the books he loves and has seized on the struggle (in middle school terms, the completely hopeless impossible struggle!) of finding books “hard enough to challenge me.” He’s been compromised, infected by toxic language of schooliness.
Instead of a passionate, voracious reader we have instead a hollow “strong reader” who never picks up a book.
**I’m an only child, so T_ is actually my cousin’s eldest. But family ranks are stupid, and family ranks below aunt/uncle/cousin exponentially so. Everyone’s cousins. Deal.