Archive for the ‘LITERACY CLOSETS’ Tag




“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.

“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.




“Handled carefully, merit pay for teachers might work.”

A profoundly silly statement, Gary Mason.

First, when did school boards or public schools ever handle anything carefully?

If you can cite a significant instance, you will earn a footnote in history.

Our school boards are run by teachers who no longer want to be teachers.

And who are our teachers?

Generally, they start teaching right out of teachers’ college, young people with no experience of the world, aware of none of the complexities of dealing in the real world of business.

At the grade school level, they are mostly not well educated, being generalists having taken a lot of easy-to-pass courses, specialists in nothing, and then they spend a year in that most anti-intellectual, anti-academic, and anti-real world of institutions, the teachers’ college.

The atmosphere in public schools and in school boards is one somewhere between a monastery and the post office.

Just read the language of the education establishment, and you will read, not so much the jargon that goes with any profession, but a lot of puffed-up language saying almost nothing and high-sounding euphemisms for avoiding problems or making hard decisions.

Further, there is an almost suffocating sense of cloistered society in our school bureaucracies, of “ins” and “outs” and favoritism and “hush, you musn’t say that.” It is not an atmosphere conducive to fair and open evaluation of anything.

This includes a kind of prevailing bureaucratic dishonesty. For example, the subject of bullying is talked about endlessly and expensive materials are purchased for presentations. Yet the real solution to bullying is never, never touched: that is, every teacher’s taking responsibility for the acts which occur before his or her eyes.

Another example of this institutionalized dishonesty is the effort to deal with genuine problems by inventing some new temporary nostrum rather than dealing directly with a problem which requires sleeves rolled up and hard effort. The examples are countless.

There is the fraud of Afro-centric or other forms of segregated schools as a solution to poor academic performance. Essentially, if these succeed – as measured by grades – it will be because of reduced demands and high marks for projects which are of little value to a good education, all conducted in the “safe” atmosphere of a place with no genuine scrutiny.

There is the fraud of social promotion: a way to make no extra effort for difficult students and a way to kiss your problem good-bye at the end of term.

Ontario has report cards that are almost a joke from a Monty Python skit. Pre-written, bureaucratic phrases are pasted into each kid’s report from a list. Their actual performance is not even properly graded.

Ontario has literacy tests – created and graded by teachers themselves – rather than grappling with teaching kids to read in the first place. As they exist in Ontario, and I have both read them and experienced a foreign student’s exposure to them, they are a complete fraud, accomplishing nothing.

Literacy closets – things filled with costly special-purpose, forgettable, throwaway books created just to the purpose – rather than attending to libraries and seeing that there is good literature kids will enjoy and learn from and teachers who help introduce them to it.

The teacher-librarian – a bizarre creation which is neither a qualified librarian nor a teacher with expertise in anything, but a body sitting around to fill in holes for various teachers away for one reason or another, spending their remaining hours supposedly taking care of the library. One good look at the state of these libraries will tell you how effective they are at their job.

Now, on top of all this, add the teachers’ union, defender of dead-wood, hero organization of the non-performer.

Finally, add a school system under direct political control, whose politicians are concerned only with getting re-elected and avoiding any serious conflict, no matter what their rhetoric.

So this is an environment in which conscientious, impartial evaluations of performance can occur? Only in your dreams.