Format Yourself

People keep bickering about the methodology of teaching instead of asking the most important question: how come it’s the school’s job to teach kids to read? When was the last time the kids who are failing to learn saw their parents with a book? Or, even more importantly, without being glued to a phone?

My kid drags heavy volumes with her everywhere and reads past bedtime because that’s what I do. Let’s all collectively leave the kids be and modify our behaviors. We keep formatting the kids instead of editing ourselves. And then we ask why their mental health is for shit.

Instead of asking what’s better, sounding out or sight words, let’s ask, how much do I read? How much do I enjoy reading? What’s the last book I finished? That’s a much more productive venue for exploration.


11 thoughts on “Format Yourself

  1. While in the narrow context of the article you shared, and for elite educated parents, your point sounds reasonable — in the broader context it isn’t.

    At least in public schools, there are lot of kids whose parents work two jobs or are in a paycheck-to-paycheck situation financially. The fact that they hardly have enough time to put two meals on the table, let alone inspire kids to read by example, does not take away from their sincerest intentions to get their kids an education (which they may not even have) and make them upwardly mobile socio-economically.

    So yes schools DO have a role to play in teaching kids read and write (and hopefully know how to do some algebra too!).


    1. I’m thinking here especially of a friend I have who has maybe completed second grade and cannot read that well. She is making an effort to further her own education, but she needs her kids’ school to teach in a way I didn’t need (I just learned everything at home from my very intelligent parents, which is great but can’t be everyone’s reality.)

      Obviously parents who make no effort shouldn’t point the finger at everybody else, but if school can’t teach something as basic as how to read, what is the point of school? Why not drop the educational pretense and just have free daycare for everyone?

      Liked by 3 people

  2. “if school can’t teach something as basic as how to read, what is the point of school?”

    Exactly. The house I grew up in was lousy with books but my parents (both professional writers to varying degrees) didn’t see any particular need to teach me to read early, that’s what school was for (again, I am a child of the great compression and the life of children then was much slower and not about resume building… poor kids now….).
    While they obviously appreciated reading they didn’t push a bunch of books on me either and let me find my own stuff which was often not necessarily stuff they approved of but they held their peace for the most part.
    I have to say, they were far less supportive of my earliest pre-literacy attempts to write which involved drawing a bunch of loops on various walls or carving them into wooden furniture…


  3. When I was three, my father, who was recovering from a serious head injury, taught me to read. He was re-learning it himself, and we learned to read together. These are some of my fondest childhood memories– working our way through the McGuffey readers, and Ecclesiastes in the KJV (something about the poetry of that book exactly suited his post-seizure malaise… “What profit hath a man of all his labor, which he taketh under the sun. One generation passeth away…”).

    It helps if parents are smart and intellectual and all that. But for the most basic skills it’s not strictly necessary. Damn near anybody can teach a child to read. It’s all about time and attention, for the kiddos. It was not uncommon in the US, a century or two ago, for children to spontaneously learn to read upside-down, from peering across the table at the family bible while a barely-literate parent, slowly and painstakingly, tracking with a finger, read aloud.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Teaching the mechanics of reading isn’t a big deal. Everybody learns it sooner or later. It’s creating readers that’s hard. People with the capacity to concentrate for long enough and the imagination that’s developed enough to find pleasure in reading – that’s what’s hard to create. Raising such individuals starts long before school age. Ideally, it starts from conception but I won’t continue about this because I’m tired of people telling me I’m cooky.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. eh, my parents would likely agree. We were voracious readers, though they never tried to sell us on that.

        We simply did not have a TV, and every room in the house (including the hallway) had at least one bookshelf, maybe two or three, crammed up down and sideways, groaning and sagging under the weight of its books, with more piled on top, and still never enough room for all the books. History, economics, religion– I remember dog-eared copies of Human Action, Gulag Archipelago, Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls, The Pursuit of the Millenium, Belloc’s William The Conqueror, Greek grammars, Bible concordances, etymological dictionaries (plural)– and then my mother would bring home discards from the school library, whenever they threw out old classics in favor of something new and trendy. We had a lot of the Andrew Lang collections and Edith Nesbit books, with their call numbers written onto the bookbinding tape in white ink. We were book hoarders.

        In addition, both of my parents did a bit of volunteer ESL tutoring at the library, so we spent a LOT of evenings there. It was also a great place to be in the summer, as it was air-conditioned and our house was not. We were on first-names with all the librarians, and our cards were always maxed out.

        So really, the key to having kids who are readers is to ensure they have lots of books and nothing else to do in their free time 😉


    2. Reading is a fascinating thing. My best friend in middle school had a little sister who was an early and voracious reader. She now works for the NASA. When she wrote, however, she only wrote from right to left and skipped the vowels, marking them with little signs. They are Jewish, so the genetic memory of Hebrew seems to have kicked in. She later became a fluent speaker of Hebrew.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There are some real oddities in it. Dad was functionally illiterate for a decade, though it’s never been clear whether it was the injury or the seizure meds or both. He never stopped being able to mechanically figure out words, but he could no longer string them together into coherent sentences, paragraphs, ideas, and narratives. A bunch of isolated words, standing around the page avoiding eye contact.

        After getting off the meds, he slowly and painstakingly used Solzhenitsyn to re-connect the neurons. He’d read a sentence, stop, try to recall what it was about, and when he couldn’t remember, he’d read it again. And again. And again, until it made sense. Then, he’d do the paragraph. Took a while, but he was very determined and it did work. Dunno why he didn’t start with something easier, but that’s Dad– I think he figured if he could get through that, he could then read anything. Which is more or less true.


  4. I fell into homeschooling by accident when my now 44-year-old daughter was five years old and asked me to teach her to read. She was not scheduled to begin kindergarten until the following September, but she couldn’t wait. I had no idea how to teach anyone to read, but I bought what was then the only reading curriculum that would sell to individuals (as opposed to schools), and we zipped through it. I was amazed at how easy it was, and how quickly she was reading at a 2nd – 3rd grade level, and devouring books by the dozens.

    Liked by 2 people

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