By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – I read with interest the post by Baldilocks about the kids in the United Kingdom who can’t tell time. It seems difficult to believe, doesn’t it? But, it’s true and it’s true here in America too. I teach in an American high school and I have kids who can’t tell time on a regular clock and who can’t read cursive.
That’s not to say it’s true with all kids, but there is a large majority of them that this is the case.
Leaning toward academics, I also have students who have never read a book voluntarily. Let that sink in. I encounter on a daily basis any number of kids who have never voluntarily picked up a book and read it. On any subject.
Even worse? Under the Common Core curriculum that is not likely to change. Our ELA supervisor has told us “we will probably never return to teaching or reading entire novels in English.”
I’ve been reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide (2009) and at every page I’m both sickened but also seeing exactly what he is saying in practice every single day.
Administrators and supervisors will say that we aren’t “teaching the test” and that if we follow the Common Core curriculum faithfully that it won’t be necessary to teach the test, but look at what we give kids to read: chunks of text. Pages of articles culled from Common Lit or from news sources. Non-fiction articles. These are followed by endless graphic organizers, analysis, sticky notes, highlighting in multiple colors, and mind-numbing multiple choice questions.
Unless kids read on their own, they aren’t reading for fun anymore.
In our eleventh-grade syllabus, they read only a few chapters of The Great Gatsby, not the entire novel. This is true across the board for novels in high school.
To me, this is criminal.
Gallagher’s thesis is that kids will never become life-long readers under this practice and he builds his case with research and data throughout his book. Consider also that the group this most affects are those kids in poverty who start out their educational experience through American public schools in “word poverty” because there are very few, if any, books in the home and they have not been read to often enough to build a large vocabulary. They start out at a disadvantage which we make worse by eliminating pleasure reading in class.
I went to a literacy convention one year and met a lady who said that each year at Halloween, instead of giving out candy, she gives out books. What a cool thing to do! She said that at first the kids were surprised and a little irritated but once she looked out her window and saw a little girl reach into her bag to see what it was, and then she sat on the curb and started paging through the book.
What a wonderful gift it is to give a child the gift of reading!
As an educator, that’s what I strive to do, despite the constraints of Common Core. There’s a large part of me that rebels at being part of the problem.