I am a fan of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Many political writers become caught up in day-to-day partisan spats or adopt a too-conventional set of political principles. Kristof, however, remains remarkably focused on the things that really matter - things like international human rights, modern-day slavery and human trafficking, poverty, and education.
And so Kristof's column in tomorrow's Times is about neither Michael Jackson nor Sarah Palin; it's about the sad fact that kids' IQs and reading abilities fall over the summer break because they are not, for the most part, reading or using their brains when they are not in school. He offers a list of ten of the "best kids' books ever."
I would add to his list:
-The Giver (Lois Lowry).
-Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson).
-Everything by Roald Dahl, especially Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and The BFG.
-Sideways Stories from Wayside School series (Louis Sachar).
-His Dark Materials trilogy (Philip Pullman).
-Indian in the Cupboard trilogy (Lynne Reid Banks).
-Encyclopedia Brown series (Donald J. Sobol).
-The Chronicles of Narnia series. (C.S. Lewis).
-The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and The Missing Piece (Shel Silverstein).
-Maniac Magee (Jerry Spinelli).
-Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh).
-Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder).
-Shiloh (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor).
-The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams).
I appreciate that Kristof's first thought about the summer achievement slide wasn't a policy idea such as lengthening the school year. Children and their parents must take charge of their own education during their breaks: they must become explorers and self-educators and resist the lethargic, easy option of becoming zombies in front of television and computer screens.
Over the years I've become more and more attracted to the idea that a central purpose of K-12 education must be to turn students into readers. And readers, that is, of books - not just blogs or RSS feeds or Tweets or "interactive stories" or graphic novels.
The sine qua non of self-education and lifelong learning is the habit of reading deeply, broadly, and well.