Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reading Rooms? Why not?

I would identify the single most important issue in education as the one most frequently over-looked: reading. As obvious as it may seem, the fact is that in most area schools, students are not provided with a place and time to simply sit and digest that which is taught or supplement it with outside reading. It's as if teachers are telling the students: "what I provide you is all you need to know about this topic."

Absent among the many "How to..." books is the one that discusses various ways in which a reading environment can be constructed that is most conducive to the way children read. Perhaps the modern library with its multimedia buzz is not the best place for this to happen.

I would like to see each school provide a nice, quiet place where students, teachers, and even parents could simply sit and read whatever they want without direction or interference. The role of parents as reading models cannot be overestimated; parent volunteers would be on hand constantly simply sitting and reading quietly, teaching by example. Perhaps an adjoining room could be set up as a "read-aloud" room for small groups to share what they enjoy most about what they read.

Do not expect administrators to buy into this concept anytime soon. I have submitted detailed proposals in three area school districts, been patted on the back and told how "wonderful" it sounded, then waited for any kind of action. I'm still waiting.

Crucial to this concept is allowing students the freedom to read whatever they want. Libraries are actively censored with “net-nannies” and book banning restricting rebellious thought. Rebellion is inherent in teenagers, it’s how they’re hardwired (perhaps, as socio-biologists postulate, so they “leave the nest”).

Could it be that administrators fear what might happen if their professed desire to teach "critical thinking skills" was actually implemented, that encouraging students to do so might also imply that they can criticize the way schools are being run? The near-complete lack of free-wheeling student newspapers in area schools is indicative of the reticence principals have to allow First Amendment rights to be practiced since doing so might invite criticism—valid or otherwise—of the current school environment.

Or perhaps the administrators fear parents busying themselves with what should be their own business. What if, God forbid, the parents come to the realization that quite a bit of time was being wasted in a school when a more productive endeavor—reading, perhaps—could be taking place?

If a child is to internalize reading as a necessary activity, it will require adults to model this behavior and many more, still, to show that it can even be a viable alternative to a jail cell (prisoners typically have plenty of time to read; teachers enjoy teaching such captive audiences)

If I were to impose school policy, I was require all students in school ought to have in their possession as an absolute minimum:

1) two dictionaries, an unabridged one for the house and a cheap, portable one they can write in to put in their backpacks.

2) ditto with a thesaurus

3) a World Almanac

4) a Strunk & White's grammar book

5) a set of encyclopedias, World Book or better

6) a comprehensive world atlas

7) religious books: Qu'ran, Bible, Talmud, etc.

All of the above can be had for less than $100 if newness is not the conspicuous consumption is not the primary objective. Bibles and Qu’rans can be obtained just for the asking, and dollar stores often sell dictionaries, thesauri, almanacs (useful even if up to 5 years old). Salvation Army usually stocks the old textbooks,
encyclopedias, and atlases.

If we continue to believe that only through lecture/discussion can learning take place, we’ll develop a society of Instant Messengers with little insight into what they write.

"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

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