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High-school students read too much, or too little

Brief by Allen Best

Education – March 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

High school literature classes in Colorado mountain towns were in the news nationally recently for very different reasons. In one case students had read too much, and in another case parents worried that students read too little.

At Norwood, located down- valley from Telluride, Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima had been assigned to a freshman class. Several parents became incensed by the profanity and paganism in the book and called for its removal. The school district superintendent complied and had the books destroyed.

In response, several parents in the community banded together to offer $100 for the best essay in review of Anaya’s book by a Norwood High School student. The group also offered 10 runner-up awards of $10. The group is also offering free copies of the book to students, so long as they have their parents’ permission. “If our schools fail to educate, it’s up to us to teach our children well,” wrote Art Goodtimes, one of the parents and a contributor to The Telluride Watch. (He’s also a poet, a county commissioner, and an occasional contributor to this magazine).

The story from Gypsum, located west of Vail, was about a student who read too little. A woman wrote to report that in 1957, she stole the answers to a test about the works of William Shakespeare and distributed them to classmates.

“I was a good student, but English lit gave me (and I might add, the whole class) problems. We hated it. It was boring,” said the woman, who is now in her 60s and living in Texas.

She completed high school, went to college, became a registered nurse, and reared a family. She is now a grandmother. But although she felt she had been forgiven by God, she felt she needed to confess to the school itself, and so wrote a letter to the current high school.

Originally reported in the local newspaper, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the story was reprinted in the Vail Daily, which sent it out on the Associated Press wire. Almost immediately, the telephone of Mark Strakbein, the principal at Eagle Valley High School, began ringing with representatives from television shows – Good Morning America, Oprah, and Ellen DeGeneres. He agreed to fly to New York City at the expense of Good Morning America — because they called first, he said — and relate the story to TV viewers.

Sharing the story of the letter first with Eagle Valley High School students, he said the underlying message is that “if you do something, it’s got to be okay with you first. If it’s not, it is never okay.”