I think I should sue my son’s school for reading malpractice. Every day he comes home from school hating reading just a little bit more. Understanding just a little bit less what it means to be a reader. Understanding just a little bit less why anyone would ever want to read. Feeling more confused by the disconnect between the meaningless busywork he’s asked to complete in a reading workbook at school and the astonishingly wonderful world of books that he knows at home.
Against my better judgment, I said yes when his school said he should take the READ 180 reading intervention class this year. There would be independent reading time every day, I was told. I examined the classroom library. Small but fairly choice. There would be time to read with partners, in small groups. Reading would be social. And yes, sure, there was the computer program but that wasn’t really the focus of this class.
And now twice a day he is in a classroom where there is only one rule, one goal. Compliance.
This is what he hears in class. It’s time for you to settle down and start reading. Eyes on your book! Be quiet! Good readers keep their eyes on their books at all times! Good readers are silent when they read! Don’t talk to anyone else about what you’re reading! This isn’t social time! Did you fill out your reading log? You’ve lost three points on this reading log because you didn’t use periods in the correct place.
There is independent reading time, yes, but it’s not integrated into a workshop. The goals of independent reading are silence, eyes on book, and correct completion of the reading log.
That’s bad enough.
And then there is the workbook. All I can say is, Scholastic, you should be so ashamed of yourselves.
This is the story I read to him from his workbook:
Jacob and Luisa are getting married in a week. They are walking through town when Luisa sees an emerald necklace. She wants Jacob to buy it for her. He doesn’t have the money, so he sells his horse to pay for it. When he gives her the necklace, she doesn’t care that he had to sell his horse. She only tells him to put the necklace on her. They are walking in the garden afterwards when Luisa falls ill. Under the necklace, her neck is marked by purple streaks. Jacob removes the necklace and takes it to the river to throw it away. He hears a humming sound as he throws it away. He won’t ever make that mistake again.
While this is a summary, there wasn’t much more to the story. It wasn’t even a full page of text. There was no setting, no theme, no character development, and no plot if we define plot as “this happened, and then this other thing happened as a result of the first thing.” It was random, nonsensical, and boring.
I was horrified, first of all, that this passed for a story in the workbook. But then there was the “essay” he had to write for homework. This was the prompt:
Write a literary analysis of the relationship between Jacob and Luisa.
My brain began misfiring. First of all, you can’t write a literary analysis of a relationship. And second of all, there was no relationship. There were only a couple of lines of dialogue in the whole “story” and no interiority for either “character.” I have a Ph.D. in British Literature, and I couldn’t have written an analysis (literary or otherwise) of the “relationship” between these two “characters.” What in the world is a struggling reader supposed to do with that? And the poor students were given more blank lines to write their essay than the “story” itself had! Thankfully, his teacher had arbitrarily marked a line on his workbook page and written “Stop!” so my son didn’t have to write a page and a half.
My son knew what was important about this assignment: fill the lines to the “Stop!” And he filled them. Mostly with plot summary. I cheered and encouraged and supported to the best of my ability.
But inside my heart was breaking. Because this is what we do to children every day in our schools. This is the “work” we give them. And then we wonder why they don’t do it. Why they become defiant in school. Why they become disengaged. Why they don’t want to learn. Why they can’t read. Why they won’t read.
I learned from my son’s teacher last week that 47 students owe work right now. 47 out of perhaps 70? There’s no mystery about why that is.
What is a parent supposed to do? What is a parent who loves learning, who loves reading, supposed to do? What is a parent whose job is to teach pre-service teachers how to teach reading and writing supposed to do?
Nothing, it turns out. Cheer and encourage and support. And then be silent.
I wanted to write my son a note excusing him from completing this assignment, but he refused.
“It’s easier to just do the assignment, Mom.”
And that hurt too.
Because it isn’t easier to comply. 47 of the kids in this teacher’s classes aren’t complying. They’re protesting. They are standing up against reading malpractice in the only way they know how.
I just wonder when the rest of us are going to stand up too.