a brief excerpt from the Introduction to
The Read-Aloud Handbook
by Jim Trelease
(Penguin, 2006, 6th edition).
See also Handbook
in American history has so much been written about the
subject of reading as in the last five years. Never has
so much money been spent to test children in any subject,
and never have so many reading rules and regulations
been imposed on schools and children.
Strangely, the biggest impact seems to be on families that are the wealthiest
and most educated. Where 20 years ago children were spending their after-school
hours at dance classes and soccer practices, millennium moms and dads now have
them enrolled in record numbers for after-school tutoring. The suburban paranoia
over state tests has ballooned the tutoring business into a $4 billion industry,
and not just for school-ages. In 2005, Sylvan Learning Centers announced it
was opening its 1,200 centers to 4-year-olds while Kumon already was accepting
2-year-olds. Where once these centers were mainly for remediation, half the
enrollments now come from families looking to give their child an advantage—like
the mother who told The
Wall St. Journal she had enrolled her 4-year-old because his scissor skills
were not up to par. How about the parents (that's plural) who hire consultants
to help their children make better "eye-contact" and demonstrate "leadership
qualities" with preschool directors while they're being considered for preschool
". . . the most anxious, stressed-out,
sleep-deprived, judged and tested, poorly nourished generation
Not that parents are alone in
their extreme behavior. They have more than enough
company among school boards and high ranking politicians
who think if you "fix the schools, they'll fix the
in Gadsden, Alabama, school officials eliminated kindergarten
naptime in 2003 so the children would have more test-prep
Two hours away in Atlanta, school
officials figured if you eliminate recess the kids
will study more. And just in case those shifty teachers
try to sneak it in, Atlanta started building schools
without playgrounds. "We are intent on improving academic
performance," said the superintendent. "You
don't do that by having kids hanging on the monkey
eanwhile, Georgia's governor
wanted the state to give Mozart CDs to newborns because
research showed Mozart improved babies' IQ's (which
later proved to be mythical research).4 Right
behind him is Lincoln, Rhode Island where they cancelled
the district spelling bee because only one child would
win, leaving all the others behind, and thus violating
the intent of No Child Left Behind, or as they might
say in Lincoln—No
Child Gets Ahead.5
"The fabric of family life
has just been destroyed. "
In the current climate, everyone
from superintendents, principals, and teachers to students,
parents, and real estate agents wait with sweaty palms
for the next wave of test results. That's at the elementary
end of the learning spectrum. Up at the other end,
however, there's another kind of restlessness. "We're training our children to be the most anxious, stressed-out, sleep-deprived, judged and tested, poorly nourished generation in history," exclaims
Merilee Jones, who happens to be the dean of admissions
at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
t the nation's oldest university and recipient of
our largest number of advanced placement students,
Harvard, a 30-year veteran of the admissions office
said today's students "seemed like dazed survivors
of some bewildering lifelong boot camp" and warned
that, "unless things change, we're going to lose
a lot of them." In our pursuit of higher and higher
scores, he said "The
fabric of family life has just been destroyed."6
anything, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
has exacerbated the paranoia. Which leaves
me with two questions: 1) How do we raise smarter
students for an increasingly complex work world
without turning our schools into "concentration camps" and our children into "dazed survivors"?
and 2) What if NCLB doesn't work?
What about all the children who will have been left
behind if NCLB's daily drilling and chanting, the testing and penalizing
don’t work? What if all that drillwork
just has them barking at type but when they have to put it all together in
seventh grade and start reading outside school for the inside school tests,
read? What if we've been looking in the wrong place, that the weapon of mass
instruction wasn't in school in the first place? Suppose the problem was someplace
else?7 So just in case
NCLB is wrong, then we'd best take out an ensurance policy on our children that
won’t turn children into zombies. And that's what this book
is very much about — something each and every parent or grandparent can
do to help their child/student succeed to the best of their abilities.
wrote the above paragraph in 2005, the Department of Education's "Reading
(No Child Left Behind's reading offspring) was under investigation after
three years of rumors and complaints about its conflicts of interest
and unscientific behavior, to say nothing of violations of government
regulations. In September of 2006 the Inspector General issued a scathing
report on Reading First. A collection of news articles on that report
New York Times, Washington Post, and others can be found here at IG
Report. There also is a link to the actual report.
The near-exclusive focus on work and diminishment of play
in early childhood education (including early primary grades) is being
studied closely by child development experts. Consider this from one
We know that children's capacity for self-regulation has diminished.
A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the
late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and
7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing
perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still
at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the
7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked.
In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena
Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says,
the results were very different.
"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago,
and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60
years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."
Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive
function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime.
In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in
school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings
and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher
Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts
effective development in virtually every domain."
The entire article can be found at NPR's "Old-Fashioned
Play Builds Serious Skills," from "Morning Edition,"
Feb. 21, 2008 (7 mins.)
The popular children's folk singer Tom
Chapin recently put
the testing issue to music in "IT's Not on the Test," available as a
free mp3 download and video at:
New York Times education writer Sam
Dillon visited two
of South Korea's prestigious prep schools to see what is behind their
success in gaining student acceptance at elite American Ivy schools.
What he found would give most American parents pause. The price for such "acceptance" is
the forfeiture of family and social ties during much of the students'
adolescence. The article
can be found at:
you suggesting this reading stuff is the job of the parent?
I thought it
was the school's job.
Let me introduce you to the "sponge factor"
in education, the largest of all the missing ingredients in the NCLB legislation.
We start with a young lady named Bianca Cotton whom I met for the first time
in 2002 on the morning my grandson Tyler began kindergarten. Families were
invited in for the first hour to help break the ice and I was snapping some
pictures of Tyler and a new friend when I gradually became aware of an extended
conversation going on behind me, in the little housekeeping section of the
kindergarten. Turning around, I found Bianca cooking up a make-believe meal
on a make-believe stove, while carrying on a make-believe conversation on a
make-believe cordless phone. And, as you can see here in the photo I snapped
in the ensuing moments, she had all the body language down for talking on the
phone and cooking at the same time.
these are our children, they are also our little sponges. If Bianca had never
seen her mother talking on the phone while "cooking," she'd never think to
grab a phone while cooking her first kindergarten meal. If Bianca isn't proof
enough of the sponge-like quality of childhood, consider this one. Since
1956, no newspaper, network, or news agency has been able to correctly predict
the outcome of all 14 presidential elections—except
for one group. Every four years for a half century, the quarter million children
who vote in the Weekly Reader Presidential poll have been right
every time but once. They even nailed the contested Bush-Gore election.
Like little sponges, they sit there in living rooms, kitchens, and cars, soaking
up all the words and values of their parents, and then walk into a classroom
and squeeze them onto a piece of paper. It's simple arithmetic: The child spends
900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside school. Which teacher
has the bigger influence? Where is more time available for change? (See also
Web Update below and the first
three minutes of
the Flash video from Jim's film which can be viewed here at Film-Parents)
THE CENTER ON EDUCATION POLICY (CEP) analyzed the academic
performance of more than 1,000 low-income urban students over
a 12-year period, their findings (published in 2007) found that
once family circumstances were accounted for, there was no significant
difference in the performance of students attending private schools
over those attending public schools.
The report, entitled "Are
Private High Schools
Better Academically Than Public High Schools?"
- 1. Students who attended
any type of private high school were no more likely to
attend college than counterparts at traditional public
- 2. At age 26, graduates of
the private schools were no more satisfied with their job circumstances
than were the pubic school graduates, nor were they more involved
in civic activities.
The most influential factors in
student success were: 1) family income; 2) parental involvement
in student school work; and 3) parental expectations for the child's
future. The entire report can be found at Public-Private-Parents.
For more on these differences, see Meaningful