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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Think: About Kids, Education, and Reading

A few weeks back, at one of my sister-in-law's ultrasounds, her youngest brother commented to those of us in the waiting room (his mother, my mother, my sister-in-law, and me) how much he dislikes school, and that his favorite parts of the day were lunch and recess.  I could naturally relate to him, of course, considering I'd gone through the same grumblings and complaints about not liking school and generally how difficult it could be.

But as he was speaking, and as the others in the room smiled and nodded in polite, silent agreement, as if this were normal, acceptable, and appropriate for a boy of his age, a thought struck me -- this certainly cannot be good.  But I didn't speak up because I didn't know exactly what to say to him.  I wanted to tell him, "No!  School is wonderful, and important, and you absolutely, vitally NEED your education to survive in this world!", but I didn't.  I held back, and I really regret it.

This brings me to today, when I was reading another section of Lisa Bloom's book Think:  Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, which I mentioned in yesterday's "Wednesday Words" post.  Below is an excerpt showcasing her views on America's education system:

"The point is that we don't value education.  We see it as something to be cut during budget crises, something to let kids escape from whenever possible, an evil that perhaps isn't even necessary.  We teach our kids to rejoice when school's out and to dread going back to school when it resumes.  Learning is perceived as somewhere between a tedious obligation and an outright pain in the ass.  As a result, our teenagers graduate without the basic facts about the world we run...

All of those years of celebrating no-school days and grumbling about classes and tests and assignments set the foundation for a life of intellectual flaccidity.  I say this because those of us who are out of school are not off the hook.  Once we graduate, our ignorance is our own damn fault...

According to the National Endowment for the Arts in its comprehensive 2004 survey, To Read or Not to Read, one-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.  Eighty percent of American families did not buy or read a book last year.  Seventy percent of U.S. adults have not even set food in a bookstore in the last five years.  Reading proficiency rates are stagnant or declining in adults of both genders across all education levels.  Nearly half of all Americans age eighteen to twenty-four read no books for pleasure."  (pgs. 47-48, bold/italic notations my own)

I feel that her comments about the value we place on education are pretty much spot on.  If they weren't, our students would be able to keep up internationally with other students their age, but they don't.  We aren't giving our kids the leverage, experience, discipline, and passion that they deserve to have to better themselves as human beings.  We're not valuing their minds.

And I'll be honest, the last paragraph actually brought me to tears.  How can it possibly be that one-third of high school graduates never again read another book?  Why are we letting ourselves off the intellectual hook?  I couldn't even imagine never stepping foot inside a bookstore again, or never deriving a thrill from beginning a brand new, never-before-read story that I know will keep me entertained for hours, or enlightening myself with another person's viewpoint on the world through a fascinating, non-fiction novel.

It's all enough to make me swear that I won't allow my kids, or my nephew and niece (and all future nephews and nieces), or even kids I have no blood relation to fall into this depressingly disturbing down spiral of laziness.  If I could redo that day, I'd dig a little deeper into my sister-in-law's brother's mind.  I'd find out his interests, and I'd attempt to show him how they relate to his schoolwork, and how learning from those subjects could inspire a desire to learn more, know more, do more, as well as foster something other than a general dislike for education.  It might not work, at least not right away, but then again, it also just might instill a passion for learning that otherwise might not have been lit.  I may never know if I'm able to make a difference in some kid's life, such as in this circumstance, but the very least I can do for that child is try.

1 comment:

  1. LOVE this post! I was just on my soapbox about this last night! I can't wait to get in a classroom once I graduate and change some of these kids' attitudes about school and learning!



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