"But They Won't Let You Read!" by Grace Enriquez

Reading Martinez last week reminded me of "But They Won't Let You Read!": A Case Study of an Urban Middle School Male's Response to School Reading by Grace Enriquez, an article I read  during Thanksgiving break.

Martinez reflected, in part, on how she believed her school experiences, largely influenced by standardized testing, silenced her as a writer. Enriquez’s work features Derrick, a student who has a similar argument. Derrick says his teachers will not “let you read.” Derrick articulates his conclusion after noticing that his teacher seems to champion reading, particularly reading for pleasure, prior to the administration of the state test, but quickly moves on to other aspects of the curriculum thereafter.

Derrick seems to say, “OK, the teacher has to do what he has to do, and I do too,” as he decides to ignore instruction partially in order to satisfy his appetite for books. Anyone who has taught for a minute has seen the student who hides the book he/she cannot stop reading inside the textbook the teacher has assigned. The question is what assumptions might a teacher make about this student and why. Teachers at Derrick’s school begin to see him as “distracted.” In the end, Enriquez asks us to think about “how our messages and views about reading conflate and conflict with one another” (p. 43).

Derrick’s case is personal to me in large part because it reminds me so much of conversations I have had with my own son about how he perceives education. I worry that the stories told about black males and their literacy practices are too few and often too generic. Awareness of this prompts Enriquez to note, “Derrick presents a different case: a Black adolescent male who wants to read, who sees his formal education at school as valuable, but who feels that challenges to his growth, enjoyment, and success as a reader ironically stem from inside school walls, not outside them” (p. 35). Enriquez’s words are best used to highlight the habit (and the outcome) of ignoring boys like Derrick, “Derrick's situation as an adolescent Black male who enjoys and values reading is more precarious, as current reform policies zero in with monolithic understandings of Black male students and compel schools to adopt blanket instructional practices that ignore and may possibly thwart possibilities for students like Derrick” (p. 36).


Want to Read It?

"But They Won't Let You Read!": A Case Study of an Urban Middle School Male'sResponse to School Reading by Grace Enriquez, Journal of Education • V O L U M E 1 9 3 • N U M B E R 1 • 2013, pgs. 35-46