Let me start by saying that I love the Reading Fair. In fact, I adore it and everything it stands for. This former English major turned MFA student turned failing memoirist/adjunct composition instructor and now copy director at a small ad agency is just thrilled by the way it inspires kids to read. To read! To eschew YouTube tutorials and Musical.ly drivel and crawl inside the dogeared pages of actual chapter books? Yeah... pure wizardry. And the Reading Fair doesn’t just inspire kids to read but also to think critically about story structures and to create utterly unique visualizations of their budding analyses out of the very materials that elementary school magic is made of – trifold poster boards, construction paper and rubber cement.
You see, Fifth Grade Reading Fair Powers That Be, it is my deep affection for the Reading Fair and all its didactic glory that made me feel so betrayed when the assignment guidelines for your fine event came home in my daughter’s backpack, and I read your closing line on the instruction sheet:
(Insert the deflated balloon whistle of my sinking heart.)
My first reaction was outrage: Why are we telling 10-year-olds to look online for creative inspiration when their very own brains hold the kind of artistic wonder and freedom we as adults can only dream of rediscovering? Why, when our eager, curious, hardworking children reach a point in their captivating ideation process are we dismissing them with a simple, “Google that shit?”
I don’t know. It doesn’t sit right with me.
Not one bit.
But please, let me also confess that I use Google and Pinterest and YouTube and all sorts of tricks every single day in my big, fancy creative job. When given a new assignment for an ad campaign, you can bet your ass I Google that shit.. So, in a way, I should perhaps thank you for teaching my child a practical skill. My time working an an inner city, open enrollment university certainly showed me that there isn't enough of that happening for the students' liking.
And, let me also make it clear that I am not a parent who inherently fears technology. I accept that a new era has dawned. The strategy cannot sustainably be “sheild our kids from screens for as long as possible and then let them go hog wild when they get iPhones in their early adolescence.” No, I believe we need to learn about technology alongside our children, and that we parents here and now are the very first whose role also includes the massive responsibility of teaching our children to navigate their connectedness with sense and integrity.
So, no, I don’t even really philosophically oppose you sending my child to Google for help with this assignment.
I even understand that my kid is pretty darn lucky in terms of being equipped for the Reading Fair. She’s one of the top readers in her class, a straight A student, she enjoys creative writing and DIY crafts, and has involved parents who help her break down the components of the assignment into manageable pieces. Not so for all fifth graders, not by a long shot. For some, Google may be their only helper in terms of the Reading Fair.
And this, Reading Fair Powers That Be, this is ultimately why your sign-off suggestion eats at my heart. This is where “Don’t forgot to Google!” really fails. You’ve given these kids one, singular pathway. A shallow and lonely how-to, a blinking cursor and an empty search bar. Please, give our children more.
I wouldn’t mind “Don’t forget to Google!” if it had been accompanied with a list of helpful tips for generating ideas: Reread your favorite passages of the story. Pretend to be the main character and write a letter to another character. Draw your favorite scene. Listen to music and make a list of the the top 10 reasons you chose this book. Go outside in nature and get inspired by finding at least one object that reminds you of a scene in your story. Interview a classmate about his or her Reading Fair poster. Go to your local library and check out the book displays… what do you like/dislike about the way they showcase books? Pretend you were going to have lunch with your story’s main character… what three questions would you ask him or her? If you could change one thing about the book you chose, what would it be? Do you think the book cover does a good job representing the story… if not, draw a new one. What's the main character's spirit animal and why? Would you like to live inside this story's setting? If the main character played a sport, go outside and play that sport for a half hour. What songs on the radio remind you of this book and why?
Or, you know, just Google that shit.