What do bottled water manufacturers and educational reformers have in common? They both package something that is natural and convince us that it is better off in plastic. Of course, this is bad for the environment and bad for the psyche. Ironically with all of the initiatives regarding educational reform in the past decade, obesity rates among children have risen and literacy rates have fallen. Here is but one sad example of how well-meaning measurers of children’s academic levels have created a depressing gulag devoid of imagination. Yes, school reformers are now emphasizing nonfiction reading almost exclusively over fiction in the classrooms.
In an effort to increase students’ readiness for careers in the twenty-first century, reformers have decided to place a greater value on the reading of nonfiction. Undoubtedly, in certain subjects, nonfiction should be preferred. However, fluency in reading is the result of reading regularly and fiction is often the vehicle for young learners reading more. How many young people have come to love reading because of the great fiction writers? J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, P.L. Travers, Louise Fitzhugh, E.B. White, and Christopher Paul Curtis are but a few of the great authors of fiction who have done a great deal to increase reading scores.
To cultivate the love of reading, learners must love what they read. In a world of troublesome news, young learners find shelter from the storms of life in fiction. But they also find values and ideas that give them courage to move forward bravely in the world. From Frodo to Harry Potter, young learners are inspired to see the possibility of greatness in their own actions. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in educational reform to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But by restricting the reading choices of young learners too much, we may reduce the time they actually spend reading. Reducing reading time reduces literacy.
So, what are parents to do? Well, consider “dropping out” from the tape measure mentality of rating and ranking children. Consider forming Home School cooperatives as supplemental educational experiences for children. Whether our children attend public, private, or home schools, let us give them the opportunity to learn outside of boxes to cultivate their intellectual, physical, and spiritual capabilities. Let’s turn a Saturday into a new kind of classroom. Walk in nature, build a campfire, read a story, identify plants, visit a museum, talk to an older person about days past, have an adventure, and visit a library. Discover there is more to learning than tape measures.
And if you are older and have no children living at home, create a Home School cooperative for yourself and your peers. Go in search of Kandinsky. Ask the librarian what her favorite book of all time is and read it. Open one of the many Parabola in the Classroom lessons and complete the lesson. Put the joy back in learning.
I finish by sharing a tale of two teachers. One was so frightful that our hearts pounded as we entered the classroom. We passed her tests because we dreaded public humiliations. The benchmarks were mastered but when the class ended; we threw away the notes and swore to never utter a word of what she taught us. Another filled us with curiosity about the world in which we lived and gave us confidence in our abilities. We loved him and we loved learning thanks to him.
So, in the words of Pink Floyd, “Hey, teachers, leave those kids alone.”