Most educators stress the importance of reading, yet they use alternate learning strategies that bypass the need to read. We have spent millions on remedial reading programs in our schools and they don’t work. Why? Because educators simultaneously give lip service to the importance of reading, while at the same time spoon feeding students alternate learning strategies that encourage kids to learn without reading. Most kids really feel that they should not be required to learn the course material if it is not interesting. And in today’s digital world, trust me, very few kids find reading interesting. The burden of learning is now placed squarely on the teacher’s shoulders, and the teacher must find a way to make the class interesting or the student feels no obligation to learn. “Why can’t you make it interesting?” my students would say. My usual reply would be something like, “If I was an entertainer, I would be in Hollywood, not here.” But, like most teachers, recognizing the age in which we live, I tried to find as many videos on the subject matter as possible to sprinkle in with lectures, demonstrations, etc., although this wasn’t always possible, especially in math. This, however, was a band-aid approach to a problem that began when these kids were in primary school. Many conservative educators have blamed the teaching of the whole language approach most public schools employ, instead of the proven phonics method. I don’t disagree with that, but I do think the problem is even deeper.
One of the reasons kids have to be entertained into learning is that they have never been brought up to appreciate reading. So much of the information they are exposed to is in video or digital form, which I believe does something to the brain that inhibits the desire and/or ability to read, as well as having a negative effect on the attention span. Kids don’t forget how to read, they simply lose the ability (if they ever had it) to comprehend and process the information they are reading, and analyzing it to any meaningful degree. Based on what I have seen in students, I think this is self-evident. Just look at how newspaper readership has declined in the past generation, and it’s not just because the new generation are getting their news from TV and the internet. It’s just that they prefer getting information in an entertaining format – the kind of media that most newspapers don’t provide. It even affects voting patterns, because people get their information on a candidate from campaign commercials and the nightly news sound bites instead of doing the research, which requires reading and analysis. How else could citizens of a free nation like America elect, and even re-elect, some of the people we have put on office during the past two decades? Poor reading skills are indeed threatening the very Republic we cherish!
I don’t know where I came to appreciate my love for reading, but I’m thankful for it, and I suspect many of my generation feel the same. I would rather get my information from reading than any other venue, and to this day, I’m not happy unless I have completed at least a couple of books a month. Today’s students would rather do anything than read, even though I still believe that is the best way to convey information. If I gave a reading assignment, even to honors students, I could be absolutely certain the students would ignore it. They either got the information from what I taught in class, or they didn’t get it at all. I don’t know why we even issue them books. So stubborn was their inhibition to reading that when we did a science lab, I couldn’t even refer to the procedure given in the science workbook. I had to give them a condensed, type-written step-by-step numbered procedure or they had no chance of getting it done. Even then, each lab group would stand around, with the procedure right in front of them, and say “What do I do?” If I told them to read the simplified procedure I had handed out, they treated it like it contained a deadly virus. Mind you, I had already demonstrated the lab experiment for the entire class before I broke them up into groups. But each group insisted that I personally demonstrate the lab procedure to them again, rather than read the step-by-step procedure I had just given them. Even the top students had this disease. Once, in response to a question, from a future valedictorian no less, I asked if he had read the chapter I had assigned. His response was, “You’re funny Mr. C!”
Lack of reading skills is a huge impediment to learning at all levels of the educational system. You may have heard about how many students graduate from high school without having learned to read, and wonder how that can happen. Trust me, none of the teachers I know are puzzled by this. They not only know how poor the reading skills are right up through high school, but they know exactly how an illiterate student can earn a diploma. Teachers are so pressured into developing alternate teaching strategies and means of assessment, that it comes as no surprise that a student can graduate without having learned how to read. Between listening to lectures, watching videos, cheating, group work (collaborative learning), and getting another student to do papers for them, students don’t need to learn how to read. Instead of forcing kids who aren’t reading at grade level into an intensive reading class, we indulge them by entertaining them into learning through other methods. We have, in fact, institutionalized their handicap instead of dealing with it. The reading deficiencies start early in life because many kids didn’t have parents that read to them from actual books. It is easier to let the TV babysit a pre-schooler than to take the time to develop a love of reading in the child. Parents, this is a huge mistake. One of the most beneficial things you can do for your pre-school or primary school child is to sit them on your lap and read with them. This will not only develop in them a bond with reading, but a bond with you. This is probably the most detrimental trend in the modern era, because in my opinion, learning from reading, at any age, is far superior in both quality and detail than video learning by far. Intelligent and learned people read – it’s that simple.