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Should Kids Read 'Trash' in School?

In a lively podcast, Jeffrey Wilhelm, a professor of English Education at Boise State University, discusses the preliminary research behind his forthcoming book—the wonderfully titled Let Them Read Trash: The Power of Marginalized Texts to Promote Imagination, Satisfaction, and Social Action. Wilhelm's bottom line, as his title suggests, is that the types of narrative works teens are drawn to outside of school, while often "scary" and even "loathsome" to the adults in their lives, can have deep educational and developmental value.

Drawing on interviews with students, he says that such works—ranging from dystopian novels to vampire sagas to video games—help kids forge relationships, deepen conceptual knowledge, and process internal conflicts and transitions. "Vampires and teens have a lot of similarities," he notes suggestively (and, well, accurately).

Wilhelm advises teachers to make such works available to students (without necessarily "championing" them) and to give students a safe environment to reflect on their reading experiences and how fictional narratives connect to their lives. This can have "functional payoffs" for teachers, too, he said, by bridging kids' personal interests to the academic context.

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