Education

Priority opinion

We need to re-evaluate our approach to education to get kids reading

Our world is obsessed with making priorities. Everyone seems to be making
lists and then prioritizing those lists even further. You all remember Maslow
and his hierarchy of needs? Perhaps he had it right when he said that we must
secure food, shelter and necessities before we can achieve
self-actualization.

If you apply this theory to education, then we must first secure books,
classrooms and teachers before we seek self-aggrandizement. So it seems to me
that educators have it all backwards. Instead of providing for the basic
needs in our schools, we seem to be more concerned with different priorities:
consultants, psychologists, social workers, paraprofessionals, special needs
interests, testing and hierarchical structures.

Of course, these needs are important, but I would suggest that we rethink our
priorities. Our priorities should lie in what our schools’ main goal
should be—to teach students, and especially to teach them how to
read.

Access to and knowledge of computer technology will not suffice. Children
still need to read what they access and understand what they hear.
Isn’t it amazing that children can learn how to access and use
chatrooms and learn a new language, a way of communicating, in code, and yet
we cannot seem to teach them our own language?

So what is the first step in addressing this priority? We need to start
somewhere—why not at the beginning? Why not with a basic necessity? How
about buying books for school libraries, as Perry Adams suggests in his
article “Justify Library Spending” in The Teacher Librarian: The
Journal for School Library Professionals K-12? “In my entire career I
have never had anyone tell me we were spending too much money on library
books,” Adams writes. “Not a teacher, not a board member, not an
administrator and not a patron. If they do complain, they do so in such a
quiet fashion that only their spouse’s ears feel the vibrations. No one
would dare come out publicly and denounce buying library books—and if
they do, simply suggest they check out a book and read up on the
subject.”

And we must ensure that we make books accessible and enjoyable for all, not
just a few. Wouldn’t it be great to have book launches and book rallies
instead of pep rallies? Wouldn’t that be novel? Instead of holding a
special reading week just once during the year, why not make it a daily
occurrence? In athletics, drama, art and other school activities, we reward
those who participate and do well. It keeps them pumped and motivated. So why
not do the same for those who read, especially those who read a book for the
first time.

And wouldn’t it be great if teachers read what their students were
reading so they’d be able to discuss their favourite authors? Sure,
they might have to crack open a comic book once in a while, but just think:
actual conversations on the joys of reading! And with some encouragement,
perhaps these comic book readers can move to the next level. I myself vividly
remember graduating from reading Classics Illustrated to reading actual books
when after reading a comic-book version of Silas Marner. As long as educators
are creative and constructive in their encouragement and comments, they
should have no trouble getting students to experience the joy of reading a
book.

And that’s a pretty good priority. V

Denis Dubé is a retired English teacher and school superintendent
who lives in Saskatchewan.

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