"Skill in reading is desirable. However, the importance of reading may be overemphasized in schools. Reading skills are determined relatively and not absolutely. Thus, relatively poor readers will persist. Schools cannot eradicate individual differences. Biological makeup and societal pressures are the important factors in determining reading skill. Present methods of reading remediation are of questionable efficacy and are traumatic to some children. Time with its associated normal development succeeds in remediating the majority of children with dyslexia. Most poor readers eventually attain reading levels that enable them to comprehend the types of printed materials commonly encountered. If a child finds reading difficult or distasteful, that child should be encouraged to read but should have the right not to be forced to read." - R.D. Snyder, 1979I have been introduced, more than once, as, "this is Ira, he's against literacy."
It's a funny introduction. I think of myself, in some weird ways of course, as a "prophet" of literacy, bringing the love of stories, yes, of books, to many who have grown up without it, but when I run into your typical "literacy advocate" I often fly into a rage.
My rage now has been created by two things, first, this "What if everyone could read" campaign by Pam Allyn and her organization "LitWorld and LitLife," and a Guardian article somehow mixing Dickens 200th Birthday with government mandated phonics ("Please sir, may I have another Pseudoword?"), and the British government's desire for all students to visit the libraries the British government is closing as an austerity measure.
Allyn is perhaps less ironic, and more hateful, fully demonizing me and all others who struggle with decoding text - she actually extends this generationally, choosing to bash our children. "When a child cannot read or write at an appropriate level for her age, it affects her ability to understand other subjects. Struggling readers connect learning with embarrassment and frustration, which puts stumbling blocks in their way and prevents them from reaching their full potential. Later in life, struggling child readers become struggling adult readers who are far less likely to vote and secure jobs than their literate counterparts. In addition, literacy levels correlate with health outcomes, both for the individual him or herself as well as his or her children." Thank you dear, I feel all better. May I now psychoanalyze a person who chooses to make their living describing others in pathological terms?
I like to read sci-fi and mysteries as I fall asleep...The Decoding Obsession
Who reads? Who reads well? What does "reading well" mean? "In the hypothetical “average school,” 50% of the students will read at or below grade level when grade level is defined as the class median. This statistical fact is generally not recognized. Educators and parents tend to view below average performance as unsatisfactory. A student performing below average in a classroom should not necessarily be considered an adverse reflection on either the parent or the teacher." - Snyder, 1979. Actually, "below" is the "norm." 67% of American fourth graders fail to read "proficiently" for their imagined "grade level," along with 66% of eighth graders, raising questions about that "grade level" concept. According to "KidsCount" from the "Annie E. Casey Foundation," in all of the United States, only Massachusetts has 50% of fourth graders reading "proficiently." This is no doubt due to the individual health insurance mandates, and required services provided by religious hospitals, of RomneyCare.
So, if so few are reading well... how the hell are people getting information or working?
If you listen to this, you simply will not know anything ofThe argument made is that our failures, whether "our" means the United States or the United Kingdom, lie in the failure of schools to beat more children into submission via phonics. If only our kids were better at decoding alphabetical text into tiny fragments of words which are tiny fragments of ideas, we'd beat those damn Chinese, Germans, Brasilians, Singaporians... whoever. Then the argument accelerates, abetted by educators who talk to human resources mismanagers. You can't do any job anymore unless you can decode alphabetical text and prove that by answering multiple choice questions on trivia included in the text.
Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales
"Although this is a common argument today, it ignores the fact that modern science and technology create many jobs in which literacy demands go down, not up, thanks to human skills being replaced by computers and other sorts of technological devices (Aronowitz & DiFazio,i994; Carnoy, Castells, Cohen, & Cardoso, 1993; Mishel & Teixeira, 1991). This is true not just for service-sector jobs, but also for many higher status jobs in areas like engineering and bioscience. Indeed, there is much controversy today as to which category is larger: jobs where science and technology have increased literacy demands or those where they have decreased them." - James Gee, 1999.Of course Gee, here criticizing the general "Educational Industrial Complex" belief system, is talking about the narrow definition of "literacy" adopted by way too many, rather than the broad definition of "reading," "Reading is defined as getting information from a recorded source into your head, Writing is defined as getting information from your head into a form which others can access," which I, and Gee, advocate. People like Pam Allyn of LitWorld, and the current British and American governments, believe in an untruth: "Is it intrinsically incorrect to learn from audiovisuals or even from actual experience?" Gee asks. "Why should a student be forced to take written notes or written examinations when a recorder or a direct personal dialog might be used equally well? For many students with severe reading deficits, the oral-aural route is the major alternative route for education." And I will add that, since Gee wrote this, the ability to convert text to speech and speech to text has become not just absurdly inexpensive, but completely ubiquitous everywhere except in schools. Gee goes on to make the key point...
"Remedial reading programs may be emotionally damaging to a child. These programs focus not on the child’s strengths and accomplishments but on his failure. With our present methods of remediation, a child with dyslexia can very rapidly become a child receiving special attention to reading during school, remedial instruction after school, and special tutoring from his parents at night. A large percentage of the child’s waking day can be occupied by the very thing he cannot do and often finds distasteful. Childhood can thus be marred by systematic humiliation. Any interest the child may have in the reading process can be abolished."
Obviously, its not just literature which can be transmitted - and learned - without "decoding literacy"
|The instruction manuals of this century...or earlier|
We also forget that the tools to switch media, as I said above, are everywhere. Right from the post below: "Read the book on paper. Listen to it via WYNN (the tool which changed my life), via Balabolka (Free), via WordTalk (Free), via FoxVox (Free), or via an audiobook,or watch the video, or talk with someone, it makes no difference cognitively."
As I said, I love books, I've written books. I've "read" tons of books. I want to share this with kids. And I want to tell all those who will unwittingly support Allyn's "Forced Reading Day," or other sad initiatives, that I'd much rather you help kids learn how to use Kindle for PC and Balabolka (or some other combination) to let them access the books they want than do any or all of your "reading interventions."
What we need to get better at is accessing information and expressing ourselves. And if that is what we want to do, and decoding - or handwriting - is likely effective for us, the evidence suggests that we will learn it. And that evidence is a hell of a lot stronger than any evidence you can present for your "teach me to read" programs.
- Ira Socol