Monday, July 28, 2008

Book availability crucial for learning

I usually hit a wall on the several bulletin boards to which I post (Slate, Houston Chronicle) when I bring this up. Folks like to debate politics, but ignore the fact that as we have become a less literate society (more oral) we fail to encourage our children to read. That, of course, is the root of the problem. Schools success is limited by what parents fail to impart.

What teachers in the lower grades do well is teach reading and, if standardized testing pressures permit, allow for reading aloud and silent reading. Somewhere around the sixth grade, however, the intrinsic pleasure reading imparts is supplanted by the required readings--including dry textbooks--and the classroom time allotted is minimized since TAKS is all. I believe this fuels naturally rebellious students, and mischievous proclivities turn to subversiveness, discouraging the few remaining readers from doing so openly, thereby losing "cool."

"A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good." - Dr. Samuel Johnson

I'm a geography teacher, so my point about a World Almanac pertains to my experiences with both in the hugely successful computerized learning game: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? and the need for students to know how to look things up manually without the use of a computer. Particularly with boys who naturally tend to read nonfiction (studies confirm this) an almanac or even a Guiness Book of World Records provides an unmeasurable amount of information that some kids will read on their own. That's why the books (most Dollar stores have some in stock) need to be in their actual possession.

Strunk & White is recommended simply because of its portability and its usefulness in directly addressing the grammar issues some folks have. Besides, so many of them were produced that they're easily available secondhand.

Not all methods reach all people, but each reaches somebody.

Yeah, I'm cheap. If I was not, I wouldn't have thousands of volumes of books in my house, cluttering up my living room. The fact that books are so readily available to our children, however, means that they're readers, too, without us having to push it onto them.

"[Book collecting] is a curious mania instantly understood by every other collector and almost incomprehensible to the uncontaminated." - Louis Auchincloss, A Writer's Capital, 1974

When I ask students how many books they have in their houses, few can list more than a dozen. I know, for example, that for every ten books, our kids my only peruse two, but if we have a hundred, that means they gone through at least twenty. Spending time at a local libray is useful as well, but I'm dismayed at how soon they close. I do my best reading at night.

“To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations--such is a pleasure beyond compare.” - Kenko Yoshida

A Bible, even a Qu'ran is necessary, not because I want to preach, but as a matter of common reference. Since so much of what we value in society has its rootys in our religions, simply pointing out where a Bible references this can provide one more realistic tie to their lives, relevance. Churches provide an ideal opportunity to add a day of education; if students can relate what they learn in school to religious belief, learning can be supplemented without having to cross the church/state boundary. Schools need not teach a belief, but it is perfectly valid to tie in factual information to what students already believe (e.g. geographical places & concepts: Tigris/Euphrates rivers, Sinai Peninsula, Israel, Zionism).

1 comment:

Alicia said...

I still think that having some religious texts but not others would just bring on a big fight.

But I think your other points are quite valid. Maybe now I'll just have to go and pick up my first almanac and see what they are all about.