Didn’t you hear: Juliet woke up in time! She & Romeo are happily married in Verona.

A recent article in the New York Times presents the problems and concerns parents have about the ways their children read. The concern seemed to be whether or not online reading constitutes the type of reading that cultivates the cognitive and critical thinking skills children will need to succeed in higher education and later in the workplace.

I am usually a proponent of the view that it is not the medium but the message when it comes to reading or research or writing: the fact that the internet is the tool rather than a brick and mortar library has never bothered me as long as the material that is being tapped is high quality. The fact that interacting with online text encourages writing is again probably a good thing. However, something in the Times article snagged my attention as a bringing students into a danger zone if it constitutes the bulk of their literature consumption:

Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends.

Literature that has endings we don’t like can often be the ones that get us to think the most, that force us to use our skills of argument, that make us grow the most.Students are always shocked to learn that Romeo & Juliet is not a love story at all, but a commentary on the price society pays for pointless conflict, stubborn pride, jealousy and unbridled revenge. It didn’t end well; that is why it sticks with us.

Of course, there might be the positive social good if students could alter it as they went along. The fiery Tybalt listens to his uncle and lets Romeo alone; Juliet resists the sin of disobedient opposition. Hmm, maybe fanfiction.com is on to something…


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Filed under Classic, Literature

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