The news that Scholastic is shutting down its Weekly Reader elementary school newspaper (read more about it here: http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/25/the-last-weekly-reader/?hpt=hp_bn13) signifies the loss of another piece of my childhood. We would read through it each week in class for several years of my elementary school career (I want to say third grade and fourth grade, and perhaps also second grade, but I’m not sure), and it was always an enjoyable diversion from regular class activities even though I remember being bored by most of its articles. It felt like a big deal that there was a newspaper being published for kids because it symbolized adults recognizing that our intellects were important and acknowledging that we cared about what was going on in the world, too. The physical nature of it, the fact that you could hold the Weekly Reader in your hands as proof of this recognition, meant something (and similar experiences still mean something–I loved print culture then and I still love it much more than digital culture).
My clearest memory of the Weekly Reader is an article before the 1988 election which explained who the two big-party candidates were and included a ballot that you could cut out in order to have a mini-election in class. Being able to vote was so exciting! I voted for Dukakis, but as was the case in the actual election, Bush won in a landslide, something like 22-9. In hindsight, this landslide seems especially surprising because it was a class of third-graders in the Bronx! The fact that many of us had heard of Bush because he was vice president (I remember arguing that this was an unfair advantage for him), but had not heard of Dukakis swayed the vote. I voted for Dukakis because I knew my parents were voting for him.
It is sad that the Weekly Reader will be no more. What were cooler than the Weekly Reader, though, and are really only associated with it in my mind because they were printed on the same flimsy, full-color newsprint, were the Scholastic book order forms that would come four or five times a year. It was so much fun to look through the four-page catalogues for new titles and figure out whether I had enough money saved from my allowance to buy a book or two (the times when I had spent my money on other things [usually baseball cards] and couldn’t afford anything were sad, indeed). During my first few years of elementary school, the books (virtually all paperbacks) were usually $2.00 or less, then they became slightly more expensive in the upper grades when we had graduated to chapter books. I remember buying novelizations of films such as Superman 4: The Quest for Peace and Back to the Future 2, and a volume that included both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story which I still have. You would cut out the order form, fill it out, and give it to the teacher in an envelope along with your money (often a smorgasbord of coins), and the books would arrive in about a month, which was long enough to have almost forgot about them, thus making the day when they arrived super-exciting, like a surprise Christmas. The teacher would always wait until the end of the day to hand them out, and the anticipation would be excruciating. I don’t really know any elementary school children these days, but I hope that they still have this wonderful experience.