Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Waiting for "Superman"... how about Waiting for "SuperLibrarian"?

As an international Librarian, why would I care about cries for American Schools to reform because of continuing low scores compared to international standards?

Using Bill O'Reilly logic, Oprah sound-bites, and manipulated educational data, Bill Gates squarely blames bad teachers as the main reason for low scores. He believes the only thing keeping learning down is shoddy workers. Finland must just cringe when they are used to support this argument.

But, as many experts have stated, it isn't the red herring of bad teaching; it's poverty. Even if Gates has "best intentions" for education, he is missing the mark in a major, life-altering, global way!

You see, when Bill Gates spreads his message, it always goes global - and then international education also starts to worry about their data. This trickle around effect creates more motivational bribes, more curriculum, more levels of time-consuming accountability, more "business practices", and more distracting incentives... when all we really need is simplicity.

Enter "SuperLibrarians"to fix education! Before kids turn 12....build this environment:
  • Provide oodles of reading material (fiction and non-fiction/textual and visual)
  • Read beautiful storybooks that stick for life
  • Encourage students to read and tell stories to others
  • Don't tell them what they can't read
  • Deeply read in front of your students
  • Create free unstructured time to play, think, and chat - I can't control that, but I can advocate for it.

storytime!Image by devender.com via Flickr

Writing, speaking, listening will flow forth. Numeracy and artistry will come along for the ride, followed by critical thinking, empathy, and their own VOICE.

As the author Anthony Horowitz points out in this article, there are children that "don't read" and children that "can't read". Gates is going to create more "can't read" kids with his erroneous financial focus on bad teachers.

...whenever we talk about children and reading, I believe we get a whole lot of issues confused and that we’re slightly too prone to panic. There is a difference, for example, between literacy—the ability to read a novel or even a newspaper article from start to finish—and a love of literature. I’ve always been inspired by the latter and write because I love story, character, and suspense and basically because I want to keep people entertained. It’s the job of government and educators to look after literacy and in Britain, it’s clear, they’ve failed.
Why has this happened? Curiously, I don’t think the rise of computer games and all the other new technology is to blame. There are plenty enough hours in the day for all the things a child wants to and ought to do. Far more serious has been the decline, in nearly all UK schools, of reading for pleasure. The curriculum is simply too crowded to enjoy a few hours a week, reading a good book. I was brought up on shared texts, books that we all read together in class, which united us and gave us something to talk about. I remember gaining confidence by reading out loud. All that has gone. Many children are asked to analyze pages or paragraphs. They comment on punctuation or try to work out the author’s intentions. What they don’t actually do is read.
Of course there are homes where children discover their love of reading at bedtime, with their parents. (I always say there’s no way you can get closer to kids…they certainly won’t share their computer games with you when they’re older). But the trouble here is that there are homes with books and there are homes without books and the difference between the two is nearly always a question of money and class. Going back to those children with reading difficulties, for example, it was found that the percentage of non-reading primary school leavers rose to 15 percent in poorer, northern parts of the country. The fact is that in the 21st century, reading is the last great apartheid. We get very exercised about whether boys are reading as much as girls, but that’s a ridiculous distinction. We should be asking about poor vs. rich, north vs. south, black vs. white. These divisions will tell us much more.
And spare me, please, the well-to-do parents who worry that they can’t get their kids to read. There seems to be an assumption here that books are like vitamins, necessary for your health and that if you love Enid Blyton, all will turn out well. I always like to remind these people that I have learned somewhere that Dennis Nilson, a well-known serial killer, was a voracious reader. I have two teen boys who are polite, intelligent, successful, athletic, articulate, etc.—but can I get them to read? Only by tying them down and refusing to feed them. Even so, I’m not too worried. They’ll come to books in their own time. Or maybe they won’t. I can only do what I do as an author and try to share my enthusiasm.
There are two questions here that nobody ever raises: 1) What exactly is the point of reading and how do you define what is a “good” book? I’ve read young adult and adult fiction that is dreadfully written, pointless, violent, and banal. Personally, I have a fondness for Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. I’d like to think that one book might lead to another, but is there a sort of invisible line that you have to cross before reading actually becomes worthwhile? 2) What do adults read? It seems strange to me that we worry so much about our children’s reading habits when at least half the adults I know barely manage more than the latest John Grisham or Dan Brown once a year when they’re on the beach.
So to answer my question, what to do with children who don’t read? Well, make sure they can read. Surround them with books. Read to them when they’re young. Make books part of their life. But beyond that I think we just have to let them get on with it. Let them play football, watch TV, hang out with their friends, whatever. It saddens me to think how few people in the world will read Dickens’ Dombey and Son or The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit—but then again, I never managed to finish Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace so who am I to talk? Which is why, by and large, I don’t talk. I just write and hope that kids will discover my books and that this will lead them on an amazing journey. But at the end of the day, the choice is theirs.
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1 comment:

  1. Hi I am also a librarian in an American school system, what makes me a little different is that I am also dyslexic. American public school gave up on me in First Grade. What they said after my first year of school was they couldn't teach me how to read, but they would promote me anyway. That was in the 1960's before anyone really knew much about dyslexia. My parents sent me to private school and I learned to read. The public school system was right, using whole word teaching they could have never taught me how to read, I needed to learn phonetically. The sad thing is after all this time this discussion is still raging. At our school we use many teachers and many styles of teaching for our students. Every student is different, we all learn differently. As a librarian what I can do is provide as many resources to my students as I possibly can. I try to encourage their curiosity and encourage them to think for themselves. Our children are brilliant they need to be respected and encouraged.We need to help them develop the learning style which fits them best. If they can communicate how they learn to teachers we become partners in their education. Of course that is hard to do with 25 to 30 students per class.
    I hear how we compare to other countries in education. My favorite school growing up was English School, I traveled as a young student. Many of the countries they compare the US to is like comparing apples to oranges, they can not be compared. Maybe our goal should be to develop what we have, and start realizing how truely bright all of our students are. We can all contribute to education.

    Shawn Kirby
    Birney Elementary School