Andrew Leddy is an English teacher at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring. He was interviewed at the school Sept. 25.
In an email you sent, you stressed the importance of reading for high school students. You wrote, “Simply put, we are in the midst of a reading and knowledge crisis.” Can you tell me more about this?
[The students] are not reading, they simply don’t read. So I created a Springbrook Reading List. Last spring I asked every English teacher: tell me what you think are the most important books [for students] to read in high school. There were 18 teachers. This list is limited to novels. We need another for plays, poems and speeches.
So you turned the list into a poster [listing 60 books] and that is in every classroom?
The English Department created the graphic. The larger the type size [on the poster], the more frequently the novel title was mentioned by teachers.
This isn’t an absolute, its representing a real nice foundation in literature, a core of books we think are really important.
Have you presented this to your class?
Oh yeah! The problem is, it’s as though they didn’t know these books were out there. What I didn’t want was for a kid to get out of school and say nobody ever told me to read. If they look at all the people who made this list and talk to them about it or ask why, that’s a start. My biggest problem is boys, they just don’t read. As a teacher I know they are cutting themselves short, stunting their progress.
Do you think the schools are ignoring reading for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math]?
Sure we do. I really think we need to up our requirements and give them more reading of the classics and emphasize writing on what they read.
Do you have a favorite book on this list?
So much of what I’m into is things that are culturally significant. When they miss reading them they miss out on cultural allusions. Take Frankenstein [by Mary Shelley]. The idea of an experiment overtaking us. That’s relevant when you talk about science, genetically modified seed. It seems small but I think it’s big, the beginning of industrial agriculture, worries and fears. At the end it’s just a great chase story. Who is the monster? The creator or the created?
What is your plan for the list?
At Back to School Night get every English teacher to talk about it. I want this to be schoolwide, to get parents to know the way to get into IB [International Baccalaureate] and AP [Advanced Placement], you need to read. I only have 45 minutes a day [with the students] so it’s about impressing on the student the need to read.
I read a lot of books, one is “The Shallows” [by Nicholas Carr] about what the Internet is doing to our brains, another is “The Dumbest Generation” [by Mark Bauerlein]. The evidence is that despite all the information [young people] have at their hands, they aren’t smart.
I don’t want to be Chicken Little here, but I don’t want to understate it either.
So what is the role of parents?
I can’t say it enough, parents need to be impressing upon students how important [reading] is. I defy the world to find a Nobel Laureate that did not start off with books. It’s about curiosity, it’s of enormous cultural importance, it’s a big deal. Everybody is saying they are going to college but I can say they would do much better [in college] if they start here.
Is this a new mission for you?
In a sense it is. I’m getting really worried about this generation. We’re not getting the best citizens we could have. I would like to challenge other teachers, other schools, to come up with their own lists. It would be interesting to see [them], every school would be different.
To see the Springbrook Reading List visit www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/springbrookhs.
“Voices in Education” is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County’s children. To suggest someone you would like to see featured e-mail Peggy McEwan at firstname.lastname@example.org.