Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Study guides"

Every once in a blue moon, some morbid curiosity impels me to check my Sitemeter in order to peer at the Google search strings.

My friends, I did so today, and now my eyes are bleeding.

I post a lot on children's and YA fiction, because it's an interest of mine, and because my thoughts on children's lit are not quite so tender and fragile as my thoughts on Stein. But what did I ever do to deserve search strings like this?

- "the perilous gard book notes"
- "two princesses of bamarre study guide"
- "Jennifer L. Holm study guide"
- "House of Dies Drear cliff notes"

That is right. Civilization is in ruin.

Because apparently people cannot even read CHILDREN'S FICTION without searching for Cliffs Notes anymore. (I'll admit that The House of Dies Drear is a little trippy and complex in some unexpected ways, but still: these books are written for ten-year-olds.)

If my searchers are reading these books for school, chances are they are not very old themselves. So their reading abilities may be only somewhat sub par. But then, it also means that grade schoolers now troll the web for ways to cheat on assignments. This makes me miserable.

So, although I have said it before, I will say it again for any extremely young fry who may have just typed "boston jane study guide" into their browsers:

When you are asked to read something, and you find that reading hard, it is not acceptable to go read something easier instead.

Doing so is analogous to consuming some futuristic food-pellet that reproduces all the nutrients of an apple instead of eating an apple. The futuristic food pellet might get you somewhere, but it doesn't reproduce the experience of eating an apple.

If you are having trouble understanding the reading, there are many strategies that will help you understand, and will make you a better reader too:

-Read more slowly.
-Ask a real live person for help with understanding specific passages.
-Discuss the book with your friends.

Looking up digests on the web will not make you a better reader. Reading canned, simplified analyses written (in the case of Cliffs Notes and other such excrescences) by total hacks will not make you a more critical thinker.

Improve your own skills. Think for yourself.



arcadia said...

I think I'm going to put a similar manifesto on my syllabus for next semester. Perhaps with a different metaphor, though: playing Rock Band or Guitar Hero vs. actually being in a rock band, or (similarly) playing a sport via video game vs. in real life.

Presuming I still have a class once the semester starts.

Natalia said...

Your fall class should be secure; it's spring when we're all screwed. Ever since last semester's whopping three plagiarists, I've decided I need to be a lot more pro-active about this whole "study guide" thing.

I also have a manifesto about "your life on paper versus your actual life" that I should perhaps run by you sometime...

Dana said...

I was looking for a study guide to help my son review Dies Drear for a test. Some people Googling for a "study guide" may want to use it to study, not cheat.

Natalia said...


Using a study guide means studying a predigested, pre-interpreted version of the novel -- not the novel. The two are not equivalent.

Using a study guide gives students the false impression that "Nature is an important theme in Jane Eyre" has the same status as "Avogadro's number is 6.02 x 10^23." They have not. Memorizing fortune-cookie readings of the novel can elide insights that students might otherwise have -- for example, that the idea of "nature" in Jane Eyre is not necessarily the idea of nature that you see on the Discovery Channel.

Using a study guide to study literature is by definition cheating.