Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Weekly Reader: Gone But Not Forgotten

by Pa Rock
Kid at Heart

Yesterday while commenting on an Oregon pre-school's presidential poll of children, I mentioned the Weekly Reader polls that so many of us remember from our youth.   I was curious as to how accurate those polls were, and decided to do some basic Internet research.  While exploring the subject I learned, much to my regret, that Weekly Reader ceased being an independent publication this very year.

The weekly magazine for elementary school children began in 1928 and lasted a total of eighty-four years until it was bought out by its chief competitor, Scholastic Magazine, earlier this year.  An article that I read stated that Weekly Reader had been facing increasing difficulties over the past few years, including competition from Internet sources and declining school budgets.

I attended poor rural schools as I was growing up, and we had to buy our own subscriptions.  I don't remember the cost, but every expense that a household endured had to be justified because there was just not enough money to have all of life's niceties.  Having money for Weekly Reader subscriptions for my sister and myself were expenses that my parents must have prioritized, because we always had our own copies of the little weekly newspapers.

If memory serves, and it doesn't always, it seems like there were usually enough copies for everyone in the classroom.   Probably the teachers paid for extra copies out of their own pockets to insure that all of the kids were covered.  I also remember one class where we would sit in pairs when reading the student newspapers.  Poverty was not demonized then as it seems to be now - and we found ways to work around it.

The first Weekly Reader presidential poll occurred in 1956 when the nation's children correctly predicted that President Eisenhower would defeat his Democratic challenger, Adlai Stevenson.  That is also the first presidential election that I remember - probably due in no small part to things I had read in the Weekly Reader.

The publication conducted thirteen more presidential polls up to and including 2008 when the kids correctly predicted that Barack Obama would defeat John McCain for the presidency.  The only time that America's children failed to accurately predict the winner was in 1992 when they thought President Bush would defeat Bill Clinton.  There was a very strong third-party candidate in that race named Ross Perot, and Weekly Reader did not include him on their ballot.   If Perot had been listed on the Weekly Reader ballot, the publication could have conceivably hit one-hundred percent in the predictive ability of its young readers.

The Weekly Reader that so many of us remember is gone - but it will live on as an important part of our American cultural heritage.  I feel like the little student newspaper introduced me to many things beyond the small community in which I lived, and it helped to make me a concerned and caring citizen of the United States.

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