A few years ago I was at one of my favorite conferences, Children's Literature New England (it was like camp for children's literature aficionados) in Essex, Vermont. One of the keynote speakers was Katherine Paterson (http://www.terabithia.com/about.html). She told a lovely and aggravating (given the state of schools and testing today) story about a friend of hers. Because I am the Queen of Procrastination, I asked Mrs. Paterson for permission to put this story on my blog TWO YEARS AGO, which she generously gave me on the spot (so the delay is entirely my fault). So, here is her story, but sadly in my words, about her friend (any errors are entirely mine and my sieve-like memory):
Many years ago there was a single mother with three highly energetic sons. She was doing her best to raise them by herself in the city, so she was thrilled when the opportunity came to send them to the countryside for the summer where they could work on a farm and enjoy the wide open spaces.
One of the young men (let's call him Steve) was in high school and he was often getting into trouble and always doing poorly in his classes. He was no more cooperative when he was sent to the farm. By the second day, the farmer had decided he'd had enough of this young man and locked him in the attic as punishment.
First Steve railed at the unfairness of it all. The farmer was not a nice person and he treated all the boys unkindly, but he had the least patience with Steve. Steve stormed around the attic until he was too tired to continue. He then looked around his surroundings.
All around him were bookcases, filled with all kinds of books, especially classics. Steve figured, "Well, as long as I'm stuck in here, let's see what's in these books." and he settled down to read. He curled up on the floor and read for the rest of the afternoon, in that hot, stuffy attic.
The next day, he acted up again and the farmer immediately sent him to the attic. Steve continued his 'misbehavior' in order to be locked up, but instead of being locked up, he was actually escaping.
After a summer of this, Steve and his brothers returned to the city where Steve began his senior year of high school. In his fall semester, he was required to take the boards for college. He aced them. His principal, his teachers, they all believed that he had cheated. There was no way that this lazy troublemaker could have done it any other way.
They made him take the test again, this time closely observed by two adults who stayed in the room with him.
And, yes, he aced it.
He went on to go to college, to grad school, to have a very successful career and family life - all because he read voraciously over one summer in his youth (and, of course, continued as a voracious reader ever after).
As Mrs. Paterson says when she tells this story, "What do you think would have happened if he'd been locked in an attic full of test prep materials? Do you believe we'd have the same happy ending?"
I certainly don't. Do you?