Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why Do Children Increasingly Seem to Hate Reading?

When I was a child, we didn't have cable. That meant on hot summer afternoons when it was too hot to go outside, I would read. My earliest memories are of checking out stacks of books from the weekly Bookmobile that subbed for a library back when north Dallas was the edge of Dallas proper. I was so excited when the Fretz Park Library opened that I went the first day and was one of the first kids to check out a book. I was such a voracious reader that when bored I would read volumes from our set of World Book Encyclopedias or back issues National Geographic that my parents kept. So I read through the wonders of the world, the obscure aspects of our society. I particularly liked the I-J volume for oddities. In junior high I was shy and would check out a book every morning before school, read it during free time at the end of class, at lunch, after school and late at night to finish and begin the cycle over again the next day.

I don't understand it when someone says they hate to read. That's like saying you hate to eat or hate to breathe to me. I get it that some people have reading problems, but what I am seeing is an increasing number of students who seem inordinately proud of their illiteracy. I have heard high school seniors brag that they've never been in our school's media center, which is ironic since it not only has books, but high speed computers AND A COFFEE BAR....but I digress.

Why do our kids grow up hating to read almost from day one? Let's take the very few kids who are truly dyslexic out of the mix-their case is more involved with the way their brains work and the tracking of information. But more and more average kids who should be able to read cannot or will not. I don't say that lightly.

Let's go back a few years to the 1950's. My mother was teaching in a low income district in west Texas in what was known as the Bracero Program. Her second graders ranged in age from seven to eleven. She taught them basic phonics and reading using low tech methods such as flashcards and drills. Being bilingual, she was able to help the Spanish speaking student acquire English reading and writing skills without the imposition of Federal programs or even Federal aid.

Move forward to the late 1980's and kids are being still being taught using basic phonics and drill. My two oldest learned to read under this system and both read and write well. But in the late 80's-90's a new concept came out. Rather than teaching using low tech methods, suddenly high tech computer programs that mimicked the same procedure as low tech flashcards. So the information wasn't different, just the delivery. As time progressed, suddenly education entities felt there was a need to make learning "entertaining." So instead of dry flashcards, gimmicky games were employed which helped somewhat with imparting knowledge, but kids continued to struggle with reading and writing. During this same time, cursive writing was removed from many school curricula. While some may think this is a picky observation, cursive writing provides a crucial link for eye hand coordination that also creates neural pathways that provide control. Because by this point so many of students were struggling just to decipher written words, rather than teach better, programs were simply eliminated.

Something had to fill the gap.So suddenly all the education publishing houses began cranking out educational computer programs. They would sell districts, to the tune of millions of dollars, on these programs based on little more than the piecrust promises of improved test scores. We were in the era of high stakes testing. Scores meant more than actual learning and data trumped all. So little kids were placed in front of computers as a replacement for print on paper learning.

Do you know when most parents of young children find out their children need glasses? It's usually somewhere in the first or second grade. Boys generally don't have tracking abilities until they are nearly seven. That's why it was illegal in the bad old days of the USSR to teach any child to read until they were seven, but I digress. That being the case, many children right now go through years of eye strain which is exacerbated by the flickering light of a computer image. Kids do not know what eyestrain might be. All they know is that when they read on the computer, their heads hurt. Reading hurts. It's a classic case of conditioning in the best Pavlov tradition.

Now what I've just written is all conjecture. If I had a billion dollars, I would want to research this. For school districts I can see the attraction of higher scores and not having to warehouse and inventory and purchase textbooks. But as we go bravely into this new world of education where student pay more attention to their cell phones and Ipads than what is going on in the classroom, I have to wonder if this is wise. Or maybe even if it is deliberate.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Existential Pain of Being Young, White, and Affluent - The Atlantic

IThe Existential Pain of Being Young, White, and Affluent - The Atlantic
I've been deeply concerned by trends I am seeing my classes. I've had to drop entire units because they are increasingly distracted by their cell phones, but worse seem disinclined to do anything beyond bare minimums in the classroom. Maybe that's somewhat understandable, but not acceptable in a basic level art class. But what do you say when the kids who want to get into elite design schools just cannot be bothered to produce? For a long time I thought this was simply an art department phenomenon, but in talking to other teachers in every department, it's not. We are raising children who come up overscheduled. Their lives are filled with enrichment and most decisions made for them. This leaves them emotionally and intellectually unprepared to make basic life decisions. And from the way they behave, they like it that way. Why should anyone want to leave a cocoon where every need is met?

On a larger scale, consider how this plays out politically. Those who voted for an administration which seems to epitomize the concept of cradle to grave control were the first products of this kind of smothering mothering. It is destructive. If you don't let your first grader pick out their clothes and suffer the consequences for bad choices, how is your kid going to decide whether or not to steal a bottle of pain pills from Granny's medicine cabinet? It comes down to basic moral education. And the parents of today's teens are largely unwilling to enforce any sort of judgement call until it's too late. This is just an extension to the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality. In life, everyone does not get a trophy. The sooner we stop this nonsense by allowing special education teacher to promote that their challenged charges will all go to college, by insisting that all kids are qualified to take AP courses, by refusing to reveal that sometimes people fail, the sooner our nation and our children will heal.

Friday, March 01, 2013

A Slice of Reality

This figurehead that claims the Oval Office is in serious denial over the impact of his actions. He has divided our nation in ways we never envisioned. He has turned Americans against each other. He is agenda drive and has placed the legacy of the "Agenda" over our future. I didn't vote for Obama, but I didn't want him to fail. I worried about his lack of experience, his fuzzy senatorial experience, his vague personal history. Oh sure, he was slick and young and verbally cleaver-but I've never trusted a celebrity nor have I been in awe of them. At every turn Obama misled. He lied about transparency. His office cooked data on ACA given to the CBO to make it appear deficit neutral. He allowed surrogates to attack people simply for daring to have different ideas. It got ugly. Too many people were afraid to ask questions. They were fearful of being labeled as racist or biased or unfair. So they voted blindly, hoping that maybe it would be good enough to make the racebaiters and those who trade in bullying to go away. But bullies don't stop just because you give them what they want, they begin to demand more.

As a teacher, I talk to collegues over lunch. This has been a rough year. We've had too many Federal mandates pushed on us. Lower property taxes and fewer business means little relief in the form of smaller classes or help in the classroom with aides for what seems to be an increasing number of special needs students. Lunch is our time to vent. Just in the past week I have heard these stories. Obama wants to pretend to champion the middle class. If this is a sampling, Obama's policies are inflicting serious damage.

My story. I'm 56, married for over 30 years to a man who hasn't had a job since 2009. At 56 we can not afford to "return to school for retraining" nor have the time to do so. My health insurance is $500 a month. When I go to the doctor now there's no copay-I have to pay $135 just for the office visit. That doesn't include lab work. My doctor wants me to go get a mammogram but I can't afford it. He wants me to get a long overdue colonoscopy but we can't afford that either. Can't afford dental work. Can't afford dermatology to look at scary moles. Can't afford to even repair water lines leaking into our walls. And after yesterday, it's clear this president means to grind us into the ground with his heel. See in 2011 my husband did some contract work for around $3000. That was all he earned the entire year. Today we got a bill from the IRS for $1088. They want a third of it. Even though our income has dropped every year since Obama was elected.

My daughter's story. She's 28 newly married. She has had a private insurance policy via BCBS for five years. It runs about $140 a month. Her husband has his which runs about the same through his work. They tried to consolidate policies but it raised the premiums to nearly $500 a month. They have student loans and can't afford it. So she's stuck with her current policy. The thing is, private insurance policies aren't written for married women. Sure you can have birth control, even an abortion BUT YOU CAN'T HAVE A BABY. So there's your real War on Women Fluke. Whatever happened to real "reproductive freedom?" Yet if she was an unmarried 15 year old Hispanic, my daughter could go down to Parkland in Dallas and pop out a kid every year for free! This is not a joke, it is a tragedy. My daughter and son in law are teachers and work with special needs kids. They would be terrific parents. But our government is effectively limiting the ability of people like my kids from having kids while simultaneously subsidizing the rise of illegitimate births to low income populations. What is worse, in talking about this at lunch our French teacher started crying. She's 38 and has been teaching for 15 years. She and her husband want kids, but as teachers stuck with insurance that is limited at best, they can't afford it. This is the "Obama Miracle"-he's made us all the same. Now we are all needy and poor.

The German teacher is talking about moving to Switzerland. Her husband is an assistant DA in Dallas. They can't afford to retire here. The head of Foreign Languages is thinking of moving with his partner to Peru. The math teachers are moving to Utah. Morale is horrible and people are very depressed. This is being acted out by the behavior of the kids who zoom in on their parents' and teachers' despair. Make no mistake, this is bad. And I don't think sequester will really make it worse. Only one thing will make it better-a new Congress with new leadership. Sadly, that's not going to happen anytime soon.