Revisiting “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys”

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summer schoolSummer school is a gift for my students, and for me. Even at work, summer is a time to slow down, focus on individuals, reflect, generate ideas, and be inspired.  It’s also a time to catch up on reading that inspires me.  In this blog over the summer, I’ll be writing about some of the books, education authors, and leaders who inspire me.

What’s on my mind these days is the success of our boys.  In my classroom325 blog, I wrote about Graduating the Boys, and the gap between the graduation rate of our girls and our boys.  Right now, we have about 60 students attending our summer school, and I’m struck by how so many of the boys are showing their full potential.

Two boys who routinely showed defiance and a lack of engagement during the school year are now our summer school star students, coming to class on time, engaging fully in their work, raising their hands to answer questions.  One of the boys publicly complimented his teacher when I visited the class, saying how helpful the teacher was.

I’m not sure what to “blame” for the transformation of these particular boys.  Perhaps it’s simply the fresh start.  Perhaps it’s a change in their personal lives—I recently spoke to their mother about some positive changes in their family life.  However, regardless of the cause of the transformation, their current state speaks to the truth of who these boys are: they are curious learners, they are agile thinkers, they are brave, and they are kind.

Seeing our boys thrive during the past week of summer school, I’ve wondered: what is the disconnect during the regular school year?  Or is this a turning point, a sign of maturity?  Or, are our summer school teachers creating opportunities for our students to show their greatness in a way that isn’t evident during the school year?

Young Men and Literacy

These thoughts led me to a book I had heard of over 10 years ago, when I was a teacher in the New York City Writing Project (NYCWP).  At their annual conference, NYCWP arranged for us to attend hear the keynote speech of Michael Smith, the author of Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men.

Smith is the kind of education researcher whose love of children is obvious in the way he incorporates their voices into his work.  In his work, he profiled four boys, with detailed research around their reading and learning habits inside and outside of school. Working with Smith, the boys kept reading logs of everything they read, from Cheerios boxes to comics.  Smith’s research truly opened my mind: why wouldn’t we see reading a car manual or sports statistics or a set of video game directions as a form of literacy?  Looking at my statistics this past June, I felt inspired to revisit Smith’s work.  The topic of boys and literacy is now suddenly, brilliantly relevant to me, so Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys is on my immediate summer reading list.