Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Schools today kill reading

I know this is supposed to be a Christmas book post, but most people in the world are already done with their Christmas shopping, most people who are not me, so I am going to instead write down my current struggles to get one of my children, formally my best reader, to read.

Oh, Calvin still reads. He reads Geronimo Stilton and Tintin and The Babysitter's Club graphic novels and he reads Nathan Hale's Hazardous tales. In other words, he reads graphic novels and comic books like there's nothing else in the world he'd rather do, but he's stopped reading regular novels, and he's especially stopped reading books he hasn't read before. I hand him a library book I think looks interesting, he reads it for five pages and declares it boring no matter the subject matter.

This feels like dejavu, it feels like a repeat of last year only with a different child. Shaemus. Last year, Calvin was homeschooled. He read all the time because I made him. He read great books, because I selected them. BUT IN HIS OWN TIME, HE ALSO READ GREAT BOOKS THAT HE PICKED FOR HIMSELF. He read great books because he was in the habit of reading great books and he loved them. Shaemus was in school. Shaemus did not read much at all when he got home from school. Ever. I was in despair. Shaemus was going to be my nonreader, I was certain of it.

They switched places this year. Shaemus is at home, Calvin is in school. Shaemus reads constantly, all the time. I caught him reading a biography of Sir Francis Drake yesterday that he chose for himself at the library... FOR FUN!

You could argue it's because they're tired of learning all day and they just want to relax. You could argue this, but I think you'd be wrong. I think schools today kill the love of reading in children.

This is because kids don't read enough at school. This is because kids are told they can only read certain books on their level at school. This is because school libraries don't have enough money to buy enough great books. This is because their teachers do not have a big enough knowledge of children's books and they can't help their students find them.

For example, Lucy is in sixth grade. It is in December. They have not yet read a single book in any of her classes. She is in a gifted school in a gifted language arts class. THEY HAVE NOT YET READ A SINGLE BOOK. Even Lucy is reading less than she used to. I'm going to have to start a get Lucy reading again program too.

Calvin was reading Beverly Cleary's Ralph S. Mouse in his book group recently. Calvin is in fourth grade. He read that book in first grade in about an hour. His book group reads two chapters a day. It took them over three weeks to finish Ralph S. Mouse. Talk about killing a book.

Flannery is in kindergarten. Her teacher has proclaimed that Flannery cannot yet read even though she can. Really, really she can (this is not just a mother's wishful thinking), but her teacher thinks she can't because Flannery can't yet check off all the things on her teacher's, You-Can-Read list. This list includes things like knowing what the title page is and finding the spine of the book. I don't think I knew what the spine of the book was until I was in college. In Kindergarten, most reading is done on the computer. Flannery is happy because she finally figured out how to manipulate the computer program they use at school to teach reading. For a few weeks, she was trying to make herself throw up so she didn't have to go to school because she kept clicking on the wrong buttons and making the computer freeze. Seriously.

Mary is homeschooled. Mary still loves to read. Hmmm.....

I'm not sure what we're going to do about these problems. I cannot homeschool them all, nor would this be good for all of them. As a temporary fix, Calvin is going on a graphic novel/comic book fast until Christmas. I gave him Wringer by Jerry Spinelli yesterday and said, "Calvin, when have I ever led you astray about a book."

He shrugged and said, "A couple of times."

"But not most of the time," I said, and he agreed.

He started the book. He shouted up to me at ten o'clock last night (when he was supposed to be asleep) that he loves Wringer. He was reading it this morning. He was reading it in the car on the way to school. Wringer is a serious book about peer pressure and killing pigeons. He loves it. We'll see how it goes. The goal is to get him to choose good books on his own again. I hope we can get there.

If you have a child who hates to read, please do not write that child off as a non-reader. Maybe we shouldn't even be wringing our hands in despair. Maybe we should recognize that the environment in schools today does absolutely nothing (most of the time) to promote a love of reading. Reading has to happen at home. It has to! And don't feel bad if you have to say no video games for awhile or no TV or no graphic novels (I don't think there is anything wrong with graphic novels—the problem only exist when that is all they are reading).

Give your kids great books, and they will thank you for it. The ability to read is like a muscle. It is strengthened only when we read, but the more we read the easier it gets and the more we love it. Actually, the ability to read comes from neurons, and the more we read the more myelin our bodies produce. Myelin is the insulator that allows neurons to shoot more rapidly. (See The Talent Code for an awesome explanation of this). It is pretty dang awesome. All we have to do to get more Myelin (for reading skills) is read.

This is true for everyone.

1 comment:

  1. I can definitely relate. My 8-year-old son drags his heels and whines and cries about having to do his reading homework, which is the required "reading mastery" work. It turns him off of reading, so when he goes to the library he comes home with a bunch of Lego books (to peruse but not really read). However, when I do hit on the right book for him, it's like he's a totally different kid. I recently gave him Loki's Wolves for his birthday, because it was new and none of his siblings had read it--and because I knew he'd dig the fact that the main characters are descendents of Thor and Loki. And it worked! He was so excited and tore right through it. Also, at your recommendation, I checked out the Heroes in Training series for him, and oh my goodness, he has loved those books. He keeps asking me to look online and see what's coming up in the series and when it's coming out. So I think we're making progress!

    I don't know what to do about the reading situation in our schools. It's frustrating. I guess all I can do for now is to keep promoting the love of reading at home and hope that, ultimately, the home influence will be stronger than the school influence! I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject. Thanks for sharing.