Reading for Learning by Maria Nikolajeva (Discussion Questions)

Perhaps I’ve always just taken for granted that reading was indispensable for young people (and all people in general). As someone who worked as an Americorps Jumpstart member (it was literally all about the books) and as an editor in children’s literature publishing, reading as fundamental to development and identity formation was just a fact in my universe. So the whole time I was reading these excerpts, I found myself asking these kinds of questions (which may just be completely missing the mark on the entire cognitive criticism argument/debate):

  1. Who is this written for and who is the intended audience? Does it matter? Who is Nikolajeva trying to convince (she says “politicians and policy-makers (226)” at one point, but something makes me think this is not that public-facing of a book)?
  2. The question of literacy, comprehension, and reading cannot and should not be taken out of social context. The truth is that there are myriad of factors that contribute to why a child doesn’t and/or cannot read (and it’s not as simple as a technological shift, as Nikolajeva appears to argue on 225). If we shift the assumption of the problem as being an issue of wanting  or desiring to read to that of a problem of access and accessibility to reading (whether it’s kinds of education, availability, costs of books, etc.),  how does the conversation change? Is this argument still convincing?
  3. Nikolajeva assumes a Common (Young/Child) Reader, which she fleetingly addresses as “problematic (15),” yet continues to do so throughout. Aside from finding the premise that the “constructed child has limited cognitive and affective skills (15)” icky,  I am interested in thinking about:
    1. Who is this Reader and who is it modeled off of? Because a little middle-class white American boy will have a very different reading experience with certain “classics” when compared to a little poor Chinese American girl reading the same books.
    2. How are we measuring comprehension and literacy? By what standards?
    3. Isn’t there an epistemological Catch-22 when we are measuring children’s comprehension by adult comprehension metrics? In other words, are we not falling into a kind of trap: children must not understand this fully because they cannot articulate it in a way that adults understand or find valid?
    4. Who owns the means of production of children’s books? What kinds of messages and identity formative ideas are embedded in these texts (the whole socialization aspect of the question)? And finally how does the types of books published affect the response children/young readers might have? Can we really chalk it up to a lack of understanding/comprehension? Might there be a representation aspect to this as well?

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