Well, there's no way to tell this so I come out looking good, so I'll just say it: we're starting our schoolwork for the year tomorrow, and I didn't look at the reading comprehension books from our curriculum until today. We'd flipped through the history and the science and the lesson plans, but I'd passed over the reading comprehension books because, frankly, they seemed rather negligible. Slender paperbacks with saint stories -- not much for reading comprehension, I thought, but no matter. We would assign some actual literature, of course, I told myself, ignoring the red flag going up about a curriculum that doesn't assign any novels even at the seventh-grade level. And we were going to stick to the curriculum because I always run into organizational trouble when I go my own way. I know this. We would do the work.
So I paid no attention to the reading comprehension books until this morning, as I sat with my tea at the dining room table covered with piles of books sorted by grade. I wanted to get a handle on what each kid was doing the next day. Be ready, you know? And as the fifth grade pile was next to me, I consulted the lesson plan. Up for the first morning: a four-page story about Maria Goretti.
There are ways and there are ways to tell children the story of an eleven-year-old girl canonized for forgiving the man who murdered her in an attempt at a violent rape. We used to have a coloring book about Maria Goretti, part of a series by Mary Fabyan Windeatt, which did a good job not only of bringing out Maria's character as a pious, cheerful, sensible Italian farm girl living in poverty at the beginning of the last century, taking on work and burdens that a girl of her age should not have had to carry, but also built up in an appropriate way her increasing dread about the advances of Alessandro Serenelli. But there are other approaches to Maria's story as told for young people, approaches that build her up as a plaster saint, approaches which use weaselly roundabouts to tell what not actually a story for children. And if you combine the plaster saint approach with poorly structured story, badly written, you will have the story I read this morning.
My fifth-grader is not the world's absolute innocent, but we haven't had That Talk yet, and I'm not sure that I want That Talk to grow out of a discussion of what rape is. And I don't want a discussion of chastity to come from this particular version of Maria Goretti's life, because it makes chastity sound sickly sweet and precious.
I turned pages in disbelief, and then I fell to skimming because it pained me to read it. Then I paged through the rest of the book, threw it aside, and said, "Damn." Never will I teach "reading comprehension" with such sappy prose, such faulty style, such bad structure.
And so, the day before we start school, here is a beginning of our new and improved"reading comprehension program", pulled in a rage from our bookshelves this afternoon:
Angel in the Waters, Regina Doman
Jamie and the Pooka, Tomie dePaola
A bunch of Beatrix Potter books
Mouse Tales, Arnold Lobel
Faith and Freedom readers from Catholic School, that my brother used when he was homeschooling
Danny and the Dinosaur, Syd Hoff
Little Bear, Else Holmelund Minarik
The surviving Bob Books
Grimm's Fairy Tales, in the edition I loved as a child
Bean and Ivy, Annie Barrows, a chapter book.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Louis Sachar
Henry and Beezus, Beverly Cleary
The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
Looking at History: From Cavement to the Present, by R.J. Unstead
Growing up in Viking Times, by Dominic Tweddle
Danny Kaye's Around the World Story Book
Jenny Goes to Sea, Esther Averill
26 Fairmount Ave, and Here We All Are, Tomie dePaola
Book of Saints, by Fr. Lovasik
One Day in the Tropical Rain Forest, by Jean Craighead George
Sand to Sea: Marine Life of Hawaii, by Stephanie Feeney and Ann Fielding
George Washington Carver: Scientist and Teacher, by Carol Greene
Our Friends From Other Lands, by the Daughters of Saint Paul (old textbook with saint stories from around the world)
Heroes of God: Saints for Boys, by Daniel A. Lord, S.J.
Seabird, by Holling Clancy Holling
Faraway Home, by Jane Kurtz
On This Long Journey, by Joseph Bruchac (Scholastic novel about the Trail of Tears)
Blazing West, Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic novel about Louis and Clark)
The White Stag, Kate Seredy
Misty of Chincoteague, and Stormy, Misty's Foal, Marguerite Henry
Snow Treasure, Marie McSwigan (Kids sneak gold on sleds past Nazis -- I loved it as a kid)
I, Juan de Pareja, Elisabeth Borton de Trevino
The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois
Father Damien and the Bells, Arthur and Elizabeth Odell Sheehan (Vision book)
Katie John, Mary Calhoun
Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, Mary Mapes Dodge
All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Carl Sandburg's poetry in an edition for kids
The Trumpeter of Krakow, Eric P. Kelly
The Wright Brothers, and Dolly Madison (Landmark books)
George Washington's World, Genevieve Foster
The Stars, H.A. Rey
Junior Great Books, Series 4, Part 1 (and Part 2 if I can find it)
The Golden Treasury of Myths and Legends, Anne Terry White, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provenson
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, Rachel Field
Fighting Prince of Donegal, Robert T. Reilly
My Friend Flicka, Mary O'Hara
Life in the Renaissance, Marzieh Gail (Landmark Giant book, with many color plates)
Lincoln: a Photobiography, by Russell Freedman
Mother Teresa, Maya Gold (DK biography)
Old Yeller, Fred Gipson
Mrs. Mike, by Nancy and Benedict Freedman
Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
(Already has a bunch of Humanities literature assigned, Ancients through Romans)
The short lists for the older grades are because so far, I've only gone through the kids' shelves downstairs.
So, there we are. We're sticking with the curriculum for other things, though -- until I grow insane from the beat-you-over-the-head Catholic content of every single subject. The notes for parents assure me that this is how we teach our kids eternal truths of the faith, that this is how we raise lifelong Catholics. I wonder, rather, if this is how we raise hothouse flowers whose beliefs wilt in the real world.