When I was in sixth grade, the Visitation nuns sent me to seventh grade Literature, which meant I had to go up the stairs to the junior high hallway and sit with older girls who didn’t like me much. I was scared of them and intimidated by the teacher, so I picked one of the desks closest to the wall, kept my knees together and my feet under my chair, and didn’t say much. We read David Copperfield, Treasure Island, Evangeline, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre that year. The teacher handed out a dozen questions for each chapter of assigned reading and collected the answers the next day. Every day.
I thought that’s what Literature class was and I liked the stories, so I read everything, answered all the homework questions, and prayed the teacher wouldn’t call on me. It didn’t occur to me until years later that those books were a bit advanced for a twelve-year-old. When I was twelve, I didn’t question much. I did what I was told. None of us had any idea then that reading would become central to my life, or that I would turn out to be a writer, a writer who writes for age 12+, no less.
For many, many reasons, I can’t imagine putting a sixth grader today through what I experienced in the 1970’s, but I’m intensely grateful someone had the savvy to recognize that I was a kid who needed a challenge and advance me in whatever way was available.
I am not advocating for a throwback to out-dated reading lists.
Instead, we need to support and expand our enrichment programs in elementary and middle schools. The weird, quiet kids with unusual strengths who don’t dream of advocating for themselves need to be nurtured just as much as the kids who are trailing behind, endanger schools’ test score rankings. For lack of a better word, “advanced” kids deserve to live up to their potential, too, and we, as a society, need for them to thrive.
Some other stories I liked as a kid outside of school:
A Girl of the Limberlost
The Princess and the Goblin
Anne of Green Gables
The Call of the Wild
The Phantom Tollbooth
A Sword in the Stone
A Little Princess