I am almost too embarrassed to even admit to this one, but I'm going to, because I believe I have just experienced the future.
My youngest son has just completed his Black History Month biography project. Each of my kids has had to do this project in fourth grade. They are to choose a famous African American, read a biography (presumably a children's version), write a one-page book report, and then create a hand puppet with which to help tell the story of the famous person in an oral report. A combination of reading, writing, oral presentation skills and art, all rolled into one project tied into a now-mandated educational month of activities.
I don’t really have any complaints about the project, except that the puppet is supposed to be created out of "home-made and assembled craft materials" which, for a non-crafty mom, is a little bit of a nightmare. But let's put that aside for the moment.
I want to focus on the biography portion of the project. We all know from our own card catalogue experiences in our youth that there are plenty of children's books about famous African Americans in history – Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, possibly even Thurgood Marshall. But what if your child wants to do a report on a famous LIVING African American, one who is in the entertainment business, one who one's parents gullibly and mistakenly listed as a potentially interesting person to research?
What if your child wants to do his report on Quincy Jones?
I'll tell you now to spare you your own research hell. There is one book on Quincy Jones, and it is his autobiographical tome, "Q." Not exactly children's reading material.
So in a parental haze, we say to the child that he should ask his teacher if it is ok to use the Internet for his project. He comes back to report that it is. If we had spent a little more time looking at the description of the project (once again, n.b,. THIRD CHILD) we might have realized that in fact, he is really supposed to read a book.
But said child already has his heart set on Quincy Jones, and the fact is, there is a plethora of interesting biographical information about the Q man on the web. And the other fact is, we're too tired and stretched thin to fight.
So off we go to begin the first computer-based book report.
Turns out Quincy is a really important contemporary figure in African American life, as well as the music industry. He was a real pioneer, and has contributed enormously to the cultural life of our country. I've learned a lot about him, and have a lot of respect for his life and work, as does my son, who has written a very nice short report on Quincy.
But it's not really a book report.
I've already had my Current Mom rant about the fact that none of my kids are readers. The youngest is probably the most likely to pick up a book and read for pleasure, but still doesn't do it very often. This was an opportunity to actually force feed a book down his throat, but the topic did not lend itself to book reading.
What's a mother to do?
We could have forced him to change his subject to someone for whom we found a children's biography to read. But that would have squelched his interest in the project. We could have found some relevant paragraphs in "Q" and asked him to read those for his report. But that would have been us doing his work, and we balk against that in our house.
The fact is he learned about his subject, has written a reasonable report, and is about to embark on the cover page and is very excited because he is going to draw all sorts of musical instruments – one of his favorite things – to decorate it. Still not sure how we're going to attack the puppet, but perhaps his artsy sister will have an idea or two.
Book report/shmook report, or should I be worried? I know that my children are not going to spend scores of hours at the library using microfilm and the dreaded microfiche (remember that?) to learn how to research topics for papers. It's all going to happen on the computer at their home desks. So perhaps this is as important a skill to hone as reading a book – learning how to filter good information from bad on the internet and figuring out how to glean what you need to create a substantial outline and well-informed paper.
But for this book-loving mama, it's still a brave new world, and one in which I'm never going to be entirely comfortable.
Photo by Flashy Soup Can via Flickr