JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: EDITORIAL ON THE IMPORTANCE OF READING JUST RAISES THE NEED FOR SERIOUS REFORM IN PUBLIC EDUCATION – NOTE ON DRIVEL BOOKS   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO AN EDITORIAL IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

“Reading is like oxygen…”

Not really, and by making that exaggerated claim the Globe places itself on the side of all the phony politicians and teachers and school administrators who day in and day out make false and even ridiculous claims about reading and literacy.

The Globe editorial writer would perhaps be surprised at the number of parents who do, or even cannot, read. After all, it wasn’t just yesterday we began graduating people who are functionally illiterate.

And preaching to such parents is both foolish and effectively just another way of shirking the responsibilities of our teachers and schools to do the job parents do not.

Even more surprising would be the number of elementary school teachers who do not read, and haven’t the least interest in it.

We have too many teachers – and this is especially important in the primary grades – who report to work each day with much the same attitude as the proverbial post office worker: I want my pay, my days off, and my pension, and “I’m outta here.”

Such people should never have been hired for so important a job, yet I guarantee we have platoons of them today in our schools.

Typically at times when in the past we experience teacher shortages, any warm body that walks through the day was hired. Trouble is, once hired, they remain in place for a lifetime of inadequate and unsupervised (we have absolutely no systematic check on teachers’ work ability and habits today) lethargy.

And all up the line we have teachers who wanted to get out of the classroom as principals, superintendents, directors, and “professors” at teachers’ colleges. There’s no escaping their influence.

It would be an interesting assignment for a Globe reporter to interview a number of school officials and teachers on their reading. I think the results would be eye-opening. Does anyone really believe that the ex-football player heading up Toronto schools is a serious reader?

And it’s the same for the politicians setting the poor rules. Ontario’s “literacy” test is a bad joke. I say that having first-hand experience with Asian students attending Ontario schools. It is a foolishly conceived test, set and marked by teachers. Those who “fail” it just take a bird course the next term to be deemed as having passed.

Now with politicians handing out the raises and benefits, what do you think is the motivation of those marking this test every year?

If we want to see help in reading for all students – as in any other subject you care to name, as well as the use of computers – we will demand of our rather handsomely rewarded teachers that they do the job for which they were hired.

We will put some of the best teachers in the early grades. It was Roger Ascham, Elizabeth the Great’s tutor, who argued for the ablest teachers at an early age. We frequently do the opposite, I’m afraid.

We will test the kids with a genuinely objective, machine-readable test periodically, one not set by teachers and ex-teachers seeking extra income.

So, please, dear Globe, do not spout meaningless figures of speech unless you are prepared to support the fundamental changes required. Nothing’s easier and more useless than mouthing platitudes while the big ugly machine chugs on. Reform is what we need.
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“There are certainly a lot of drivel books out there.”

Yes, indeed.

And the education establishment has brought some of the worst of it into the schools.

I refer to the dull books stuffed into “literacy closets,” bought from publishers trying to make a quick buck on parents’ concerns and the education establishment’s mouthings about literacy.

At the same time that considerable resources have been wasted on these over-priced and uninteresting books, we have let libraries in schools decline into a shameful state.

A school library should have the best of children’s literature on the shelves and a friendly person in charge to introduce them to the books and teach them about using our great public libraries.

On the whole, we simply do not do this.

So-called “teacher-librarians” – a recent historical creation which is neither fish nor fowl – preside over the pathetically supplied and poorly maintained libraries on a part-time basis, and many of them show no interest in library content or children’s reading skills and interests, nor are they themselves lovers of books often.

They are there to fill in the holes in the principle’s schedule for teachers briefly away for some temporary reason – a ghastly anti-educational concept altogether.

We need lovers of books in the libraries, people dedicated to promoting the use and value of libraries. Library technicians, selected for their skills with books and children, would provide a superior human resource.

Just go see the lovely people working at many branches of our public libraries. No one comes away feeling they are there to fill holes.

Young children need a loving and informed introduction to books, especially the large numbers of them with no hope of receiving that at home.

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