Why Johnny shouldn’t read

The big focus in American education from the 1960s through the present was why children can't read (something I attribute to the new educational approach that abandoned the wonderful logic of phonics). Now, though, for parents hewing to traditional morals who have kids trapped in public schools, the question becomes, "Why should my child read this drek?"

Zabrina, of Thought You'd Never Ask, tackles this in a three part series called Great Literature in the Public Schools (part three has yet to be published). In Part One, she details her unsuccessful efforts to protect her 9th Grader from reading a book larded with profanity and violent images. In Part Two, she tackles similar material (with an emphasis on raunchy language, not violence) that her 4th grader is reading in school (and that the teacher is reading aloud to the students).

It sounds as if Zabrina's children are sufficiently mature, sweet and innocent to learn from, without being affected by, such materials, but that doesn't change what I take to be Zabrina's point: Why are we using our public schools to teach down instead of up (up being more inspirational material)?

True, all teachers would (and, by Zabrina's example, do) defend whatever raunchy material they offer on the ground that any given book teaches important life lessons, whatever the lesson in the book happens to be (triumph over racism, drug addiction, handicaps, sexual abuse — all the things people need to triumph over in today's literature). But why can't we teach the same lessons (presumably of courage, self-discipline, a sense of self-worth, honesty, etc.), in the old-fashioned way — by pointing to people, real or imagined, who had exemplary lives, and by writing about those lives using dignified language, not trashy language more worthy of the street corner than the classroom?

Anyway, I'm just recycling ideas that Zabrina presents with great lucidity in her posts. They're long, but you'll be doing yourselves a favor if you read about her travails in the public schools.

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Comments

  1. says

    The moment is very near (if not already passed) when it will be abusive behavior to put your child in a government school. (I realize that they differ, and that some are, on balance, good for the kid.) But a teacher allowed to read material with sexual content to fifth graders, works in a school that does not deserve the attendance of the children of good parents.

    As for why kids don’t read….it’s easy. Their parents don’t read, and/or their parents permit the kids to spend a LOT of time with electronic media. We never had a TV in our home, and all four of us sat down after supper and I read out loud while Gail and the kids did needlework. Each of us chose a book, and I did 15 minutes out of each. Even when I had to walk around the room while reading, in order to stay awake! Even when the kids complained and said they had homework to do — this came first. My kids buy books, just like we do, and they read them, too. Thor was a National Merit finalist, and Laura a semi-finalist. You can make your kids appear as geniuses — READ to them.

    Jim Trelease, “the read-aloud guy”, has it right. Go check it out on his (not very attractive) website: http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/

  2. says

    Hi, Bookworm,

    Thanks for linking to my essays and thanks for your supportive comments. I must hasten to point out a couple of mis-statements in your post, tho: my daughter is in 4th, not 5th grade, and I would not characterize the material I objected to in her case to be sexually oriented; it “merely” contained “bathroom humor,” profanity and racism! Other families dealing with other schools (as I have linked to in my essay) have not been so lucky, and I am afraid the sexual content will not be far behind, especially since it already lurks in novels for young people in the school libraries, which I will discuss further in Part 3.

  3. says

    I’ll correct the grade thing. Sorry. That it was 4th not 5th makes it even worse, though, in my mind.

    I got the sexual aspect from your daughter’s question about “making out,” a pre-sexual activity that I think 9 year olds shouldn’t have to worry about.

    Overall, I thought your points were excellent ones and point to what I consider major flaws in our public schools — their determined attempt to take away our children’s innocence. I was really glad to link because I thought your points deserved wider attention.

  4. says

    I started reading in 4th grade, thereabouts. It really helped in learning. Cause there are two aspects to learning. Getting the information and understanding the information. Reading helps in getting the information, which allows me to concentrate on the understanding part. If you spend all your time being confused over words and their meanings, you won’t have much time to actually think about what you just picked up. Which is bad. And it also snowballs after years. Not thinking, that is.

    I found books entertaining, juvenile books that, meant for small kids to young teenagers. It was always fun to read adventure stories.

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