When I was young, I heard a lecture by Nicholas Negroponte, a futurist and co-founder of what is now the MIT Media Lab. He described a future where people would never have to leave their homes-- everything they needed could come to them with the push of a button. (It was before we knew about the click of a mouse). The only reason to leave home, he stated emphatically, would be to find a mate or get buried. Many skills by which people currently made a living would become obsolete. The picture he painted horrified me. But, I reasoned, people would still need to know how to read.
Reading for pleasure, to fill up the day, has been pre-empted by a plethora of entertaining activities that require little else than watching. It seems as if the human race is devolving into doing the minimum to exist. As per Negroponte's prediction, we are getting fat and lazy. Negroponte went on to found a movement One Laptop per Child, hoping to reach all children including those who live in the third world. It failed for a variety of reasons, mainly because his manufactured product was poorly designed. In recent years, Negroponte has shifted focus and now says: "If you take any world problem, any issue on the planet, the solution to that problem certainly includes education. In education, the roadblock is the laptop."
I'm not sure that's true. I think that the problem in education stems from the lack of reading and thinking regardless of the device. Reading is the only way to get into the minds of educated people who know how to write well and think clearly. Learning to read takes practice. It should not be separated from thinking. That is why my tribe of award-winning authors of nonfiction for children have created the Nonfiction Minute. . We don't just write a readable essay, we also speak it aloud. This exposes less fluent readers the magic of content. The Minutes just happen to be the same length as the reading passages on the standardized tests. But each Minute is a self-contained essay with a beginning, a middle and an end not an excerpt from a larger work taken out of context for the test-taker to struggle with. Our Minutes are not leveled because leveling makes text flat and eliminates voice, the humanity that makes the content come alive. But the Nonfiction Minute is not enough to produce readers and thinkers. They need to tackle fuller works.
For this reason, iNK has opened a bookstore, iNK Books & Media Store. The categories that the books cover are illustrated above. Most of our books are interdisciplinary. They are also beautifully illustrated, carefully designed and edited to make them into learning experiences with the real world. We will be adding books all year. Pick a topic from the icons above that you're required to teach. Help your students discover the pleasure of learning from a good book. Let them build self esteem by doing something that requires effort and perseverance that is also a pleasure. Let them experience the work of people who have spent a lifetime thinking and perfecting their craft of putting words together to make meaning.
Otherwise, writers who think and care about educating children will also go the way of the typewriter manufacturers.