Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Schools Teach Students to Hate Reading: Mass Creation of Non-Readers

Schools are producing graduates who know how to read but are not readers. They have become non-readers (functional illiterates) because the schools have taught them to hate reading! 
Functional Illiteracy
Schools typically use a curriculum and methodology that consists of senseless and meaningless worksheets and exercises which the students are forced to do repeatedly, continuously and ad-nauseam. And, when they resist, they are punished with F-grades, labeling and humiliation. These meaningless tasks and exercises and their resulting punishments teaches the students to hate reading and convinces them that ALL reading is so tedious, so boring, so frightful and accompanied with so much punishment that it is inconceivable that reading can ever be pleasure and fun. This is how we are producing non-readers, who believe that reading books is unreal, irrelevant, and disconnected with the challenges of life. We are in fact producing functional illiterates. 

Life Long Learning vs Sacrificing Interest
at the Altar of Technique Mechanics
Schools over the last 40 years have succeeded in turning our population from readers to non-readers. Once upon a time till 1980s there used to be libraries in every street and every commercial center of a locality. There were bookstalls on busy intersections and bus stops. It was inconceivable for educated people not to be reading newspapers. However, our schools despite enrolling the kids as early as 2 years, and even at an earlier age, have succeeded in turning our population into non-readers.
From a more narrower perspective of a school's policy and its adopted methodology, we see that there has been a sea change in basic assumptions about how a child learns to read. The figure above shows that there are two paths towards learning. One takes you via stimulation of your interest, and the other drives you towards the mechanics and techniques.

The path towards mechanics and technique assumes that it is unnatural for a child to be interested in reading. The basis of this assumption may be is the experience of designers of curriculum who may never have been readers. They most probably were made to hate reading, when they were driven, crying and kicking, towards reading as a technique. They believe that reading is tedious, and the only way to teach a child to read is through "forced instruction". They assume that a child first must recognize phonics, then letters, then words, then phrases, then clauses, then sentences, then paragraphs and only then would the child begin to appreciate and understand the story. This assumption is known as "reading for meaning". It states that unless form, structure and technique has been mastered, meaning can not be understood.

This view is totally opposite to the view that a child wants to learn naturally. He learns to read through picture stories being told in a riveting fashion by parents and then teachers. It is the story and its meaning and the excitement of discovery that drives a child towards reading. However, schools have forgotten that a child "reads from meaning" and not "for meaning". It is not the understanding of the form of letters and structure of sentences that drives us towards meaning, but it is our quest to enjoy the excitement derived "from" meaning that helps us in deciphering the structures. This is shown by a simple exercise:
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. 
The above example shows that we read "from meaning" [1]. It is the meaningfulness of the sentence that helps us in reading. That is, we predict with reference to context what a gibberish word should be and we then piece together the cues to substitute gibberish with the right word [2].
A child naturally yearns for meaning. He is interested in real life complexities and text that evokes emotions and feelings. He is interested in mysteries, adventure, thrill, horror, love, hope, comedies and tragedies. He is naturally interested in trying to resolve riddles and complexities of life. He is fascinated by giants, dwarfs, magicians and stories such as fairy tales, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and like. He is NOT interested in sanitized documentary type books such as A Day at Beach, A Day at Zoo, A Day at Market which are explicitly written to drive down vocabulary and structure. Further, these types of every day descriptions, Biff and Chips, Jane and Peter type books are an "insult to his intelligence" [3]. The types of exercises accompanying such books are senseless, meaningless and non-sense. Even the Oxford University Press' level-wise books of classics become too sanitized when their complexity is decreased to artificially fit the content and the story "dumbed down" to a particular level. Removal of appropriate language with toned down vocabulary and original constructs with simpler constructs sucks the life out of these books. This has been admirably captured by John Gatto in his books Dumbing Us Down[4]. The project for Dumbing the children down is not only in Pakistan but also in USA where the attempt to drive down the natural language to a ridiculous level of simple levels has been captured by John Gatto in the "Weapons of Mass Instruction"[5] on page 12: 
In 1995 a student-teacher of fifth graders in Minneapolis wrote a letter to the editor of the Star-Tribune complaining about radically dumbed down curriculum. She wrote that 113 years earlier [in 1882] fifth-graders in Minneapolis were reading William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Caroll, Thomas Jefferson, Emerson, and others like them in the Appleton School Reader, but that today, I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly:
back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, i£ in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, We, went, where, when, will, would, etc.
Is this nuts?
On one hand the content has been devoid of mystery, adventure and thrill, and on the other hand what remained of the story of classics has been subjected to senseless repetitive exercises that make the entire project of reading a hugely dissatisfying experience; devoid of life, the texts when combined with worksheets, fill in the blanks and repetitive non-sensical exercises and associated humiliation and punishments, set the stage for making the children hate the entire project of reading.
Contrast this with the children who got hooked on to the stories of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and through them love reading. They are reading not because of the exercises and learning the structure but because it is the stories that interest them. The mastery of technique and language structure understanding comes in good time naturally for the voracious readers. One need not worry about it.


[2] This is explained in detailed by Dr Dee Tadlock in "Read Right"
[3] Frank Smith, "Insult to Intelligence": The Bureaucratic Invasion of Our Classrooms
[4] John Gatto,  Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
[5] Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction, (New Society Publishers, 2009 )

See Also:

School Education


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