“If you agree to do this list of items,” these programs say, “then you get these rewards.” Sign this paper, follow the requirements, and later, you’ll reap the benefits. If you don’t, too bad; your lack of follow-through demonstrates your lack of interest in the program.
I understand this reasoning. It’s an American tenet, after all, that consistent hard work leads to progress and success. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging these values in students.
But at the Kindle Classroom Project, there is a different message: “This Kindle is for you.”
This is what I tell the students when I give them their Kindle. The only rule is not to break or lose the Kindle. Otherwise, they get to use it as they like. They can read a lot or a little. They can choose what they read and request books they want.
This message emerged from conversations last year with KCP teacher and close friend Kathleen Large. Miss Large is an extraordinary teacher because she loves her students unconditionally and pushes them to a build a life of the mind. Gifts with conditions, she would argue, do not appropriately demonstrate the care, respect, and love we wish to offer our students. We must instead give and trust.
“This Kindle is for you” is powerful because it means, “I believe in you, I care about you, and I encourage you to read. This gift contains a library of books. Choose any of them to read. If you don’t find something you like, let me know, and I’ll buy it for you.”
If we want young people to read, we can’t complain that they don’t read, or say that they’re lazy, or that teen culture repudiates the quest for knowledge, or wonder why they don’t go to the library. Instead, we must put books in students’ hands.
“Many of my students over the years haven’t owned a single book they can call their own. It’s heartbreaking. While I recognize that many people lack the resources to purchase books, we must accept that for children to have access to books, someone—a parent, teacher, librarian, or generous donor must buy books and put them in children’s hands. If we truly value reading, the artists and publishers who create children’s books, and the children themselves, we must embrace our role as book patrons.”
According to Ms. Miller, the if-thens shouldn’t always be for our students. Rather, they should be for us. If we put books in students’ hands, then they will read.
I’m proud to be a part of the Kindle Classroom Project, and I’m very appreciative of the many donors, teachers, and students who make it possible.