Is that even a real word outside of my world?  Don’t know, don’t care.  So for those of you interested parties – Bibliophil-itis means Book Lover or Reader’s Disease.  I’m infected. Gloriously infected. And hopefully, contagious. I’ve loved books – and reading, since early childhood.   ” Reada me ‘nocchio, Mama” (read me Pinocchio) was the staple chorus at bedtime for me.  I taught myself to read by the age of 4 – and even earlier could always tell when someone tried to cut corners while reading a familiar story. I imagine we all could do that with our beloved bedtime tales.  Bit by the reading bug – you betcha. And I quickly became a speed reader on top of it.  As a teenager I read ‘Jaws” in about 3 hours.  Books were the gift of choice to me at Christmas; but my family soon learned not to give them to me first – or I would literally not open my other presents once I opened the book.  I have bibliophil-itis in the worst best way

I was in a discussion on Facebook today- I had posted a link to a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby – which led to the following –  ( rather than paraphrase I figured I’d save time and copy/paste) I have erudite, intelligent friends – just so you know – several of whom are wonderful  educators.  Here is the transcript:

  • Friend 1:  I still have mental twitches from having to read “The Great Gatsby” in school — I have been thinking, after lo, these many years, I might have to overcome this and try reading it again…
    Friend 2: Friend 1, you just hit on something that is one of my pet peeves. We force kids to read novels the content of which really is just over their heads, and it turns so many off of reading. They are capable of decoding the words and maybe even grasping the general concepts, but they are not mentally or emotionally ready to absorb the true message. I probably didn’t say that as well as I could, but I’m super tired and just took cough syrup.
  • Friend 1: no, I think you got it exactly right — my son was assigned to read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” over the summer as a HS freshman, and that is not a book that a 14-year-old boy has an interest in, he hated it; I remember also detesting Steinbeck and Hemingway, who were the “in” authors of so-called classics at that time. Luckily I did a lot of extracurricular reading, so I wasn’t turned off to reading as such, but many kids don’t come from families that read a great deal, and that would make a difference. Sorry to be so long-winded, but I could discuss this for hours..
  • Friend 3 Students do seem to enjoy “Of Mice and Men” by Steinbeck. But now our curriculum is filled with a lot of nonfiction that neither the student nor the teacher enjoy. I think we do need to read nonfiction but all the extended text in my curriculum. I feel as if I am teaching history and not English.
    Donna Hoyt Erickson You guys nailed it! So many people get turned off of reading because of the reasons you stated. Sometimes the message is way over heads. In order to enjoy reading it first has to be an enjoyable story and well, vividly written. I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird. Read it in middle school, my take away was mostly about the consequences of bullying and finding a friend in unexpected places. Re reading it a few years later, my take was a bit more mature – centered around the (till then not obvious) sexual undertones of rape and incest, social injustice, prejudice, social class, and inequality. I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that we take from any media (medium?) what our developmental stage and maturity level allows us to. We need to train ourselves to interpret written materials and think critically; allow ourselves the gift of exposure to literature we might not quite be ready for. Personally it’s SO MUCH more fun to read for enjoyment and for love of the story than it is when you have to interpret it for a class assignment. The best teachers hopefully key in on the students interests first and help instill a love of reading at the get go. Mine did. Thank you Mrs Chandler! (Son of Mrs Chandler – please give a shout out to your Mom for me – thanks) Then, the dry boring stuff is a little easier to take. I could discuss for hours too, but you guys already knew that. .
    Friend 1: funny you should mention that, my son and I were discussing this and he said “To Kill a Mockingbird” was a favorite of his for required reading — embarassingly, I’ve never read it (hides head in shame). One of the things we discussed was the possibility of broadening the choices available — students certainly must be introduced to a variety of reading materials, just like everything in life — or they will not know what’s “out there”, or be able to extract meaning from writing — but the curricula must take into account the age and personal tastes of the students. There are plenty of well-written and thought provoking books in the sci-fi field, for instance, and since both I and my son are SF aficionados  we naturally read more of that than anything else. and Donna makes a fine point that you take out of a book what you are able to depending on your age and maturity level… Friend 3, do you think the English curriculum contains nonfiction at the expense of fiction?  so difficult to marshal my thoughts coherently when I have so much I want to say!
    Friend 3: Yes I do. I believe students should be exposed to nonfiction but to have an entire curriculum dominated by nonfiction is over the top. Instead of teaching English I end up teaching social studies and science. It would be more beneficial for students to read those texts and discuss them with the social studies and science teacher. We do get to teach a little writing and very little grammar. But as for reading literary books whatever the genre-not happening. I am adding in an independent read right now to open the door to students individual taste in literature. Much more engaging for them.
    Donna Hoyt Erickson Independent Study is a great work around! This discussion has inspired a blog post (forthcoming) Thank you ladies!
        I honestly do feel that in order to learn from reading anything the first step to infection with the virus is to read what is enjoyable to you – so the process of reading is positively reinforcing in and of itself.  You cannot become a bibliophile if this step is skipped. I witnessed this firsthand with my daughter’s former boyfriend.  No interest in reading whatsoever.  He was never encouraged to read about what he enjoyed – only told what he had to read.  He hates to read, unsurprisingly.   That always made me sad.  I prefer reading to watching TV or movies actually.  Love the places my mind can take me.  As an awkward, physically uncoordinated person, books were my sanctuary in my younger years.  They still provide a happy place for me.
        I did find the discussion about the English curriculum disturbing. Nonfiction reading has a place in English classes – but not to the exclusion of other genres of literature.  The human mind is at its best when it IMAGINES.  Dry as dirt rehashing of what-has-been does little to stimulate a love of reading – or dare I say – even a love of learning if the learner has no interest in the material.  I doubt we are doing students any favors by “browbeating” them with nonfiction they have no interest in.  As adults, they will then not likely have much love for literature in any form – having been so adversely conditioned in school. And what of the teachers?  How much enthusiasm can they be expected to generate over material they don’t enjoy?  Students learn best when the teacher is energized and enthusiastic about the material being presented.  An entire generation with no love for the written word, inoculated against the virus.  I’m so saddened.
         I do love non-fiction and find myself reading more and more of it as I get older.  With this caveat:  Only about subjects I have an established interest in.  The Tudor period. The Renaissance. Sea Stories. Mountaineering.  World War 2.  Aviation. Prohibition, The Mafia, and Forensics/True Crime. (to name a few)
         Not to say that we shouldn’t cultivate a well rounded cache of reading material which we can discuss.   We absolutely need to be able to  think critically and communicate effectively. We can’t do either of those things unless we are infected enough with the virus to enjoy reading.  The enjoyment of the process gets us through the dusty musty stuff and forward to the next level.  I admit I approach all of my reading concretely.  What happens in the story is my first concern. And if it ain’t interestin- I ain’t continuin to read it.  My infection leads me next to ask why I find the material interesting. Why does it resonate with me?  Post traumatic stress disorder prevents me from traveling down the theme interpretation path too far; but there are in fact themes that resonate with me. My core values would be a good way to put it, I guess.  Love, Friendship, Family, Overcoming Hardships, Perseverance, Actions of Integrity in Adversity, Honor, Loyalty.  BUT whatever I read has to be well written or it’s gonna get tossed.
         Which brings me to a discussion about authors.  I’ve found that my preferences for writers are not so much about how they write (they wouldn’t be published if they sucked at writing, now would they?) – but rather what they write about.  If you’re not a fan of the horror genre you may not like Stephen King, or Dean Koontz. If you are then you probably like at least one of them.  Frank Herbert may be too cerebral a writer for you even if you are a sci-fi fan. To each his own – and we all develop during the course of the disease in us, an affinity for a particular author’s style within a particular genre. Virus mutations, for lack of a better term. Although it’s perhaps the perfect term to use given the title of this post – Hahaha!
         Sadly but unsurprisingly, the US is not a frontrunner in terms of literacy and education – although it should be. (we have the resources, and the personnel – just not the values)   Why can we not address critical thinking skills by allowing students access to literature that reflects a theme but not curtailing them by only allowing them to read one book. Multiple choices. We need to rethink our teaching curriculums to reflect a new mission statement.   To instill in learners –  at whatever age, – a lifelong love of learning and investigation. To help learners want to learn.This is the true virus that needs to infect us all. Bibliophil-itis. The process starts with gladly opening a book.
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Have You Seen Junior’s Grades?

Van Halen – And The Cradle Will Rock…

With a nod to Van Halen – this is sort of a ” Part 2″  of my “Rock Solid’ post the other day.  One thing I did not mention in that post  was that at least one of those brothers I discussed got to the 10th grade without knowing how to read or write.  I commented to my blogger friend SkyDDsDrake that I was horrified by that, and found it unconscionable.  While she is not an educator per se – she’s a MH professional working in the educational system – I asked her for her thoughts as to why this happens and here’s what she said in part:

“Accessibility is key. When there are so many parents who simply don’t care, and so many educators overwhelmed with the number of students they have to serve, for some students its really just a matter of knowing where to start.”  “Because not all teachers are created equal. Some are burned out, some only took the job to get summers off, and some are flat out racist, homophobic or possessing of some other -ism that keeps them from caring about their students actually achieving.  Once a student gains a reputation as a ‘problem child’ its a rare soul who tries to help them out. There’s also the matter of overcrowding and whatnot.  And its really not just an issue in MA. I’ve seen and heard tell of it in many places across the US.”

I would have to agree with this, and submit to you all that we need to continue strongly advocating and lobbying for sensible education reform in this country.  Hubert Humphrey said in his remarks at the dedication of the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, November 1, 1977 (Congressional Record, November 4, 1977, vol 123, p. 37287)  “The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”   We are failing this test – EPICALLY – in the dawn, the twilight and in the shadows.   In my opinion we have an obligation, a social duty – to care for these people and assist them to achieve their fullest potential.   The reason(s) it’s not done are myriad – but I think it boils down to simple economics in the end.  These people in the half light either are not yet contributing to society and the economy, have finished contributing, or  cannot contribute much if at all.  Therefore they are undervalued. Others -whose vocation calls them to work with these populations, are woefully underpaid accordingly.  (I know, I’m one of them.)  That’s a whole ‘nother post though, friends.

The fixes start with the children and educational reform.   Education is a discretionary item on the state budget.  It should not be – a primary education up to the 12th grade should be the right of every  citizen; and funded accordingly.   School funding is one of the first things cut when there’s a budget problem- and it’s the kids who suffer.  Lack of proper funding contributes to overcrowding, fewer teachers hired to teach those larger classes, lower pay attracting less qualified educators,  fewer books, fewer resources… and the list goes on.  The US can’t compete effectively at the global economic level  if we can’t or won’t educate our population to an acceptable standard.  We can and should be doing it better than just about everybody else.  There is no reason to dumb things down when we should be raising the bar.  Junior should ABSOLUTELY be able to read and write by the 10th grade; and I submit – in more than one language (the rest of the world can).

Photo Credit: unknown, from Facebook. Text added by me.

Which brings me to excuses – Lets get rid of them, shall we?  Why have standards if we don’t apply them? Educating our children is a partnership between the schools, the children, and the parents- each with their part to do.   Everyone in the mix should be ACCOUNTABLE  for performing their parts to an accepted standard.  Students – for completing their work to the best of their ability and keeping out of trouble. Parents, for assuring that their children are completing their course work to standard; and working closely with the school to ensure the student is attending school and not having any problems. Educators, for teaching the material and assuring that the majority of the students pass any tests at a predetermined standard level.  (if teachers teach well, it follows that the students will learn – and demonstrate that by passing the tests)  No excuses.  Either do it, or be held accountable.    Get social services – and/or law enforcement if appropriate -involved immediately if there’s a problem with truancy or acting out in school (this includes bullying and harassment).

Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks

Get social services and law enforcement involved if the parents are not assuring Junior is going to school.  Get rid of tenure and teachers unions so that sub-standard and/or  burnt out teachers and education administrators can be gotten rid of easily.  Provide a teacher to teach during detentions or in school suspensions. The work still needs to get done. Pay educators what they’re worth.  How about performance based incentive raises for teachers? Something along the lines of the more kids you get passing your class at a certain grade level, the better your pay?  Grade students objectively not subjectively. Just some thoughts…. and some of these things are already being done.

And heres two great words: Parental Involvement.  Educators can probably predict which of their students will be doing well by what parents show up on conference night.  As a parent, it is my responsibility, at the minimum,  to assure that my child is getting an education, is fed, clothed and housed appropriately.   According to the law, I am accountable for these things. I need to advocate, yell for help,  and be a big squeaky wheel if I can’t do that on my own. And its not only the law, it’s my sacred duty  to provide for my children.  If  I’m not willing to sacrifice and advocate, then perhaps I should not be a parent. If I’m a selfish, careless, meth head alcoholic for instance…..enter social services and off to adoption for the kids, off to rehab for me…. No excuses, no second chances. There’s plenty of wonderful lovely people out there who would be thrilled to take over the parenting duties I have no regard for or cannot handle….

I made a lot of provocative sweeping statements here, and hopefully have given quite a bit of food for thought.  I don’t have all the answers. There are no easy ones, that’s for sure. And I may be way off base on some things. We have to start addressing these issues and making these difficult decisions and choices because Junior can’t succeed if he’s illiterate.