Friday, I read aloud to Lucy's fifth grade classroom. They were mesmerized by these two books:
A Weave of Words by Robert San Souci
Lincoln Tells a Joke: How Laughter Saved the President (And the Country) by Kathleen Krull
They were mesmerized. They were mesmerized because A Weave of Words is a terribly exciting story. You have to find out what happens. It is awesome, and after that, they were mesmerized by the Abraham Lincoln book because they all knew that Abe Lincoln was honest, but did they know he was funny? And did they know he was funny and relied on his sense of humor in the most dire of circumstances? They didn't, and they loved finding it out.
It was truly awesome. Every ear in that classroom was glued to the words in those stories, even the ESL girl who came here from China only six months earlier.
That is the power of a good story.
Then fast-forward to Saturday. After a cello lesson, I talked with Lucy's teacher for a moment. He came from a home of seven children, not much money, but chock-full of books. Their dad read them Beowulf out loud at the dinner table. For fun. And all seven children are brilliant. "Idiot Savants," he told me. Then he bemoaned the future of kids today. "None of my students read," he said. "None of them even own a book! And these are children of educated parents who should know better!" His wife is a high school English teacher and she is no longer allowed to have her children read novels like they used to. They now read passages from things. Non-fiction articles. Maybe one or two novels a year.
Not an hour later I was driving to pick Mary up from a rehearsal, musing on what I'd talked about with our cello teacher, and I heard this story on NPR:
Listen to this story. It's not long. Eleven minutes. Or you can read the text. Even if your eyes roll to the back of your head when you hear the words Common Core. Even if you think this is just another passing educational craze. Read this article, because you are wrong. The Common Core is serious stuff, and it is completely changing what happens at school for our kids. (Unless you live in Texas, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nebraska which didn't adopt the Core) And we need to know as parents what this means and what is changing in our schools.
Without question, the core will mean that fewer novels are read in school. There isn't the time anymore, teachers have so much to cover, and the emphasis isn't there, so any state, any school, any teacher serious about adopting the Common Core standards is going to assign fewer whole novels.
What does this mean?
It means that it will become an increasingly rare experience for children to fall into a book, read it from beginning to end, and leave hungry for more, like Lucy's class experienced on Friday.
It means that this must now happen at home if we want our kids to love reading. This reading MUST happen at home.
I say this as a frustrated parent. I homeschool my third grader and he reads upwards of two hundred pages a day of literature, social studies, science. He is reading books from every decade, nonfiction books on every subject, novels of every sort. He reads constantly, and I can see it in his comprehension and his writing and just the way he talks in general.
Then there's my first grader who's in the public schools. I've bemoaned before that he will come home from school having not cracked a book. I know that doesn't mean he doesn't read. I know there are words and sentences all around him all day long at school. But he's still not reading, and when he gets home, he's my least likely to crack a book.
But reading—reading—is different than just decoding and deciphering words. We all know this to be true, so why are we taking this away from kids? Why aren't we encouraging it more at home? How many books are in your shelves at home? How many books do your children own themselves? I went to Walmart today. It is very telling that the number of children's books in that store could fit on one/tenth of an aisle, but the movie/video game/technology section of the store takes up an entire corner. I complained about this to Sam, and he said, "It's demand, honey. If people were buying books, Walmart would have a huge section of books."
We could change that. We really could. If people started buying books with the same vigor they bought video games and movies, what would happen in our country? They are estimating now that about fifty-percent of children graduating from high school this year will have to take at least one remedial course in college to get them ready for freshman level courses.
Let's make sure our children do not fit into that fifty percent.
Even if you listen to this article and you agree with David Coleman