Too dumb for complex texts – my thoughts

I’m catching up with my reading and came across an article in Educational Leadership titled ‘Too dumb for complex texts?‘ written by Mark Bauerlein. The article talks about the failure of graduating high school students in the US to adapt the academic rigours of University and blames this on the lack of study of ‘complex texts’ in high school.

My first reaction to this was a strong ‘ouch’. It sounded like so many opinions I’ve been hearing/reading about of late about the dangers of technology and how detrimental it is to students’ futures. Having thought a little more about it, I’m willing to agree on some of his points. There probably is less of a focus on the study of complex texts in schools than there previously was. I’m also willing to concur that this may be having an impact on students undertaking higher education as they are unfamiliar with the expectations of the academics teaching them. Do I think this is necessarily a bad thing? No. Perhaps we are pushing students into that form of higher education who aren’t really interested/equipped to deal with it. Do I think University is the life solution for everyone? Absolutely not. ‘Higher education’ comes in lots of forms, shapes and sizes and each type suits a different type of learner with different intended outcomes. If some students are finding it hard to engage with texts at a University level, perhaps it’s because the path they’ve chosen (or been encouraged to choose) is not right for them. Some students will thrive in these environments, despite being brought up on a diet of ‘digital diversions’ and will adapt their reading, comprehension and analysis skills to a variety of situations and text types.

I’m not suggesting that students do not benefit from a well rounded diet throughout their schooling and would hope that they continue to experience a variety of texts, ranging from timeless classics to modern digital feasts. However I’m wary of pushing a concept of schooling with the sole intention of preparing students for University. It’s not just this article that I’m reacting to with that statement, it’s a general feeling that I’m developing from Government policies in Australia as well. The purpose of education is a huge and contested topic but, in my classroom, I like to think I’m trying to prepare students for life. That ‘life’ might include further study at University, TAFE or an apprenticeship but it will also include relationships with others, managing and enjoying leisure time and finding meaningful pursuits to help them develop their self worth and place in society. Understanding and negotiating digital texts plays a huge role in all of that and, therefore, has an equally large part in the school curriculum.