Mandatory reading: good or evil? Yes. And—-yes.
In theory, requiring elementary school students to read a certain number of grade-level-rated books addresses the goals for increasing many levels of literacy.
- Reading skills
- Writing skills (by seeing examples)
- Vocabulary expansion
- Cultural IQ
Each child is assigned a certain number of points to attain each quarter. A reward is offered for reaching a goal both individually and for an entire class if every member reaches his or her goal.
My eldest child has been an avid reader since she could first gnaw on books with her baby-gums. Reaching her reading goals was a simple matter. She figured out the system fairly quickly and rapidly read through a number of at-her-grade-level books, took the computer tests, scored well on them, and went on with reading what she really wanted to read on her own time.
My youngest reads, but not in a linear fashion, most of the time. She often starts books far above her recommended grade level and makes headway for a few days or weeks and stops and sets them aside. Sometimes she picks them up again and gives the reading another try. My husband reads to the kids as part of the bedtime process (sometimes I am permitted to participate), and Youngest reads her pages and listens as Eldest and Daddy read theirs.
She decided this quarter to read a more difficult book, hoping to get her entire points-goal accomplished all at once. She stuck to this book, it took her a few weeks. When she took the ten-question test, however, she did not score well enough to receive credit for her work…
And HERE IS THE PROBLEM:
Now she’s reading low-level (at grade recommendation) books to reach the goal.
Not because they are interesting to her,
not because they’re challenging,
but because they are SHORT
so she has a higher probability of getting a higher testing score to meet the goal for the prize.
Are you hearing me?
SHE IS CHOOSING LESS CHALLENGING WORK TO GET THE PRIZE.
I believe in education. I like school for many reasons, and I understand there is a natural need to create goals and assessments and use methods that address a large group with varying abilities.
BUT IS THIS WHAT WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO LEARN?
- Don’t try things that are difficult because you will fail
- If you fail, that is bad, because you will make your classmates angry at you and you will not be rewarded
- Do what is designated for you by faceless, nameless authority-figure strangers
- Stay in your place, don’t explore
- The most important assessment of a book is achieved by being able to answer 10 factual questions about the contents
- Reading=find the facts, meet the goal, move to the next book
- Only take on things that interest you if you’re guaranteed success
- Only simple tasks/stories are worth undertaking
Eldest Child figured out the system and beat it by speed-reading and going back to an activity she loved: reading like a real person.
Youngest Child… she’s a risk-taker, so she does bite off more than she can chew.
Yes, this can be problematic, but it is a characteristic of highly creative and very successful innovators and artists. But the pressure of only getting rewarded for taking low risk books to read will change her outlook unless her father and I intervene.
We have to provide new rewards for attempting tougher stuff.
Saturating the educational process with everything being level-determined assessment-friendly results-positive is a grave mistake.
By insisting on basic standards, yes, the notion was to raise the level of expectation and have a basis for improving “failing” schools.
What’s resulted (side effect time) is a LOWERING of expectation to reachable levels, and an emphasis of thinking-style conformity that might very well churn out acceptably educated students who are NOT FUNCTIONAL ADULTS.
These will not be the leaders in the face of a crisis: innovation is not rewarded.
These will not be the artists and visionaries to inspire the world: doing what is measurable is the only measure of success.
The social implications are alarming as well. If we suffer (do not get the pizza party) for those who tried to read more difficult books and failed, or for those who didn’t make the high score on a test because they applied creative thinking to answer questions, we will punish them.
After all: WE WANT PIZZA. YOU WILL CONFORM. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. WE WANT PIZZA!
Not your artwork, not the four chapters you read about mathematics you couldn’t possibly hope to understand. ANSWER THE TEN QUESTIONS from the SHORT BOOK and receive your piece of plastic, your piece of sugar candy, the friendship and admiration of your peers and the relieved smiles of your teachers and the bragging rights for your principal. WE…WANT…PIZZA…
IS BEATING A SYSTEM DESIGNED TO CELEBRATE MEDIOCRITY A GOOD LESSON?
Excuse me, I wasn’t adamant enough.
Will it make my children happy?
No, because we humans like to be liked. We like our plastic and our treats. We don’t enjoy struggle all that much. We don’t like being called names, and maybe not having anything to show for all of our work for long periods of time.
But in the end…yes. Because we humans were not designed to be pleased with conformity. It seems tempting, and there are times where a homogenous monotony is appealing. But we don’t manage it well for long.
Eldest child’s strategy worked. She’s moving through school with her goals met, and her love of reading continues.
Youngest child will, with encouragement, find her way through the dumbing-down maze, and arrive with her creativity and sense of curiosity intact. She will be rewarded for stretching the boundaries.
Even if we have to buy pizza for the whole class to do it.
Elizabeth Ellen Everson