Friday, November 30, 2012


As I was driving to and from the museum yesterday I listened to a program from our local NPR station. Students from the University of Arkansas were being interviewed about a class in which they were being required to read a "non-fiction" book. Students in the class had never read one before. It seems that children these days are seldom required to read non-fiction other than textbooks, and have little understanding of the world of reading that exists outside of let's pretend. Some of the students said, it was really cool. They could see that reading non-fiction might cause them to integrate new things in their own lives and maybe change a few things instead of being passively entertained. After reading one non-fiction book the students thought they might even be inclined to try another.

My brother-in-law teaches writing and literature at the Indiana University in Terre Haute, Indiana. He told me about a student who complained at having to read Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. She told him, "This is like 'old English' or something!" The sentence structure was more complex than she could manage. LOL

Remember when folks wrote in cursive, and when letters on the page were personalized and embellished and when language too, was a thing more complex and could actually engage the reader in swirls of thought just as the marks of a pen on paper might carry a person deeper into the page? When the pen would move across the page in sentences commensurate in length to the time the ink would follow from the nib, we as both readers and writers were more intelligent in our use of language. And now, lacking in flourish we've been reduced. LOL. or  ROFLOL, I guess.

A couple years ago, when I had a short piece published in the UU World magazine, I was told by the editor that they regarded by writing style as "baroque." I told them that if it's baroque,  fix it. Sentences can always be manipulated by a good editor for the greater success of the 6th grade reader. But writing style often reflects the complexity of thought.

Now schools are all abuzz about core standards. I guess with the decline in literacy, something must be done. But it is ironic that when schools were able to include wood shops and other hands-on activities, standards were higher. Early practitioners of manual arts training believed that time spent in the wood shop actually reinforced reading and math skills, and made the time spent in teaching reading and math more effective. Imagine that. Spending hours in the wood shop actually made learning in other classes more meaningful and relevant and thus the material was learned with greater ease and efficiency and in less time.

Charles R. Richards, director of manual arts training at Teachers College, Columbia University said in 1901,
"The problem of the elementary school today is, I conceive, to make the life of the school more real; more an epitome of the kind of thinking, feeling and doing that obtains in real life; more a reflection of the actual life outside the school walls..."
And so there you have it in a nutshell. Children need to be engaged in doing real things. And in the meantime, schools are missing the boat. We adopt iPads at elementary school and push reading and math and core standards. But you can not push a rope. Get children involved in making real things , and their interests will soar within the school walls. Even for reading and math. Really.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. I read the three posts that I had missed, and ended up coming back to this one to comment. How can we learn different levels of expression without reading? Maybe because English is my second language I'm more curious about British and US English, different ways of putting thoughts on paper. And by the way, that collapse of language skills is one of the reasons I retired.