Thursday, November 15, 2012

You are Killing Reading (and Dr. Seuss)

My Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf newsletter alerted me to an article in Education Week entitled "Common Standards Drive New Approaches to Reading".  Basically, the new common core standards have begun trickling down to the classroom, and students are reading much more non-fiction, showing how they understand and can use the information they have read,  and practicing their writing and language skills in more than just English classes.

That's all fine, until you get to this startling statement:

"First graders in Vermont are listening to a Dr. Seuss tale, over and over, searching for clues that back up the central thesis of the story."

Excuse me?  You just killed Dr. Seuss.  I'm a 30-year-old professional librarian and I can't tell you the central thesis of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  Is there a central thesis to Hop on Pop?  I'm seriously asking here.  

I am not the only one concerned about this.  The article goes on to say that in order to find the right balance between historical primary sources, fine literature, and (gasp) pleasure reading the answer is more reading.  More reading, and with what time?  Admittedly, says the article, that's a problem.  But so is money.  Districts simply cannot afford to educate their staff on how to best strike this balance, so we're not only asking our students to read more, but we also want our teachers to figure out how to get them to read more, yet stay interested in reading.  This doesn't add up.

Would you like to know why I never pursued school librarianship?  Because I didn't want to kill reading.  I knew that being in a school setting would fill me with dread about standards and projects and bibliographies and give me little joy of reading that I really love to see.  In a public library, you can pretend that reading is more pure.  You can snicker at the parents when they brag about Lexile levels.  You can walk away when parents ask for the Your Baby Can Read system.  You can pretend that you're better than all of those core standards and that we are all here for the love of reading.  But you cannot pretend in a school.  In a school, as a librarian, it is your job to not only encourage a love of reading, but also to follow those core standards, and that felt too limiting for me.  I just don't have the stones to be a school librarian.  A big BLESS YOU to the school librarians that do it right.

In reality, it boils down to this, and always has:

1.  Read to your child
2.  Let your child see you reading for fun
3.  Read to your child
4.  Surround your child with books-it doesn't matter what kind!  Cheap paperbacks from Walmart will do!
5.  Read to your child
6.  Support a love of reading in your home
7.  Read to your child
8.  Take your child to the library

A love of reading should be born in the home.  You don't have to read to your child 30 minutes a night.  There's no magic formula for creating a love of reading, but it helps if the parents love reading.  Although that doesn't always work either.  One of my professors is an authority on children's literature, and her daughter did not take to reading right away.  But don't fight it.  Making a child read, making a child listen to Dr. Seuss over and over will not create a love of reading.  Asking children to tell you the central thesis of a picture book is not the best idea.  Just read for the pure joy of it, and hope that they pick it up.

I'm sorry Dr. Seuss.  We've used your word in vain.  It's criminal.

Again, I've rambled, so let's bring this thing home.

In just a few days, I get to see my favorite little reader.

It's only been a year that he's been in my family's life.  He made me the cool aunt, and the kissy aunt, but he's going to grow out of that soon.  I'm not the cool, irresponsible aunt in the after school specials.  I'll never give him alcohol or cover for him if he breaks curfew.  But I will buy him graphic novels and skateboarder magazines if that will get him to read.  I'll be a book pusher.  I will not, however, give him a subscription to Sports Illustrated though.  That swimsuit issue is just creepy and he's not ever getting his hands on that-no sir!  But ESPN magazine-sure.  Of course by then he'll be reading everything on a tablet, so maybe I'll buy him his first tablet and link him to my Amazon account.  Then I can track what he's reading and downloading.  I've got you back sister!

Whatever the case, I want Anthony to grow up to be a reader.  He can be a firefighter/rescue worker.  He can be a plumber.  He can be a congressman (I'd prefer if he weren't a congressman, but I'll support him anyway).  He can be anything as long as he reads.

But let's be real, with a cute little face like that, I'll love him no matter what!

Happy Reading!

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