Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is Reading Fun?

Is reading fun? As a confirmed bookworm, I can reply with only one answer - of course it is. But that's not true for everyone - especially today's kids.  Even while literacy scores have been improving, we've managed to create a new generation of non-readers. According to an article in this week's National Post, fewer kids today report that they enjoy reading than they did a decade ago, despite an overall increase in literacy. 

My ultra-articulate response to this story is, "No duh." For at least the last decade, it's been obvious to those of us who care about literacy and reading that literacy education has been hijacked by the bureaucrats - functionaries who see the ability to read strictly as a job skill useful for future worker bees. Their view is that kids need to be taught to read - to decode written symbols - in order to produce valuable output - data entry, form-filling, ticking off of boxes on a customer satisfaction survey. The practical skill called literacy is completely divorced from what I would call true literacy - the ability to gather information from written sources of all kinds as a way to independently satisfy any curiosity.

In the reading-as-job-skill world view, reading for pleasure is beside the point, a distraction that interferes with measurable outcomes. So teacher-librarians, who spend their day encouraging kids to waste their time  - and tax payers' dollars  - giggling over books instead of building those black and white test scores, become redundant. And those expensive obsolete print collections called school libraries?  Frills. Let's put in a computer lab instead and call our job done. 

That has to be the thinking. Otherwise, how could politicians and educators spout the importance of literacy ad nauseum  while simultaneously gutting school libraries and eliminating school librarians?

With this week's news story, at last, the other shoe drops. Because of course you can't separate the love of reading from true literacy, any more than you can separate melody from music appreciation. There needs to be a reason to read, one that is meaningful to the reader, and not the bureaucrat, to drive true literacy. That reason comes when one discovers for one's self how books - and comics and magazines and DVDs -  open the world in unexpected ways, and how they can take you on a unique and highly personal journey.

Let's hope this new study gets the pendulum swinging back in the right direction. Let's put literacy education back into the hands of book lovers, people who revere the written world and respect children enough to let them come to the love of reading the only way possible - through old-fashioned discovery. And let's support - by funding AND through an appreciation of the critical role they play - the teacher-librarians in our schools.

They are the beating heart at the centre of any truly literate school community.

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