Thursday, August 16, 2007
Junk Science is Fun
So there's a substantial body of research suggesting that for kids, familiarity with, and exposure to, narrative conventions, especially written narrative conventions, supports literacy in the early elementary years. This is why you see parents propping books in front of their six-month-old blobs. It's also, perhaps, one reason why a child from a home where reading isn't emphasized might have trouble learning to read. And there are Viking longboat-loads of research linking trouble reading to, well, Deep Shit.
So. Early exposure to narrative = good. I'm so comfortable with this conclusion I'm ready to break out the metaphors! Early exposure to narrative is a primer. It's a foundation. It's an inoculation against the ravages of educational failure.
Wait a minute. Inoculation? Inoculation is so terribly medical. Medications have to be used sparingly, under strict parental supervision. That's why there's that handy childproof screw cap I still can't get open. If you overdose on a medication, you could die.
But narrative doesn't come with a screw cap. Once you've got the bottle open, you're free to huff, snort, inject, or knock back as many stories as you choose. Frankly, I've been under the influence since I learned to read. And I don't remember learning to read.
So. Let's blithely ignore, for a moment, the army of narratively underexposed children marching toward poor life outcomes, and ask ourselves this: what happens if, in your formative years, you're narratively OVERexposed?
Every so often, I give this semi-serious (and wholly-guilty) thought. A mental run-down of people I know who started hitting the books early and often suggests some possible consequences, including anxiety about one's life-path (how's my narrative shaping up?), trouble making decisions (which narrative do I choose and why do I only get ONE!?) and a certain dissatisfaction with the non-narrativity of life. I'd wager it's that dissonance- between the narrative skeleton and the mess you're slapping on the bones- that drives the narrative junkie out of her head.
In short, narrative overexposure fucks you up.
That's my hypothesis for the evening, at least. It would be hell to sort out the confounds -SES, IQ, temperament- but I'd love to see the data. Of course, barring random assignment of kids to different reading groups, you'd never know whether narrative fucks you up or if fucked-up kids like narrative. And even if by some miracle you could achieve random assignment, the effect might be a needle buried in a statistical haystack.
But wouldn't it be fun to get your story straight?