Maya read The Help by Kathryn Stockett last week. I think she read it faster than I did. She was motivated by the fact that the movie has come out and wanted to finish the book before seeing the film but also by the fact that it is an amazing book. So well-written and clear that even at 11 years old, she got it.
My eleven year old is reading General Fiction. (I’d say ‘adult fiction’ but somehow that sounds wrong.) She just came out of her room and told me that since summer started on June 21st she’s read 12 books. Her goal is 15 by summer’s end. At that moment Ben asked if I knew how many books he’s read this summer. We figured out that the answer is 7.
Whenever I read articles like the one in the Times Op-Ed section from today by the head of the Ford Foundation (can’t be bothered to get up and bring that section of the paper over in order to get his name) saying that children need to spend more hours in school so that they can learn more, it makes me sad. Why do we live in a country where more is always seen as better? When did that happen? Not just in schools, in everything. More food, more money, more stuff, more school – are we ‘more happy’ for it?
Yesterday I wrote about visiting our friends in PA. At one point during the afternoon, the kids were cold and took a break from the pool. Maya and her friend Greta promptly got out their books, sat in the sun for about an hour and read. (Ben was lured away by Lego.) This prompted Joanne to lament the fact that none of her 4 kids, including Andy who is at Rutgers and is the most ‘bookish’ of them all, enjoy reading. Nicholas, who is Maya’s age and going into 6th Grade, is reading at barely a 4th Grade level. Joanne blames it on his teachers.
Blame who you want, but I know one thing for sure. More hours in a classroom will not magically cure what ails us. I cannot believe people are still banging that drum; more school, longer days, longer years. They are missing the point. What about motivation, and interest and curiosity? Will more hours in a classroom foster those things? I suppose they could, but in today’s system I think it is rare. It’s all about higher test scores. Which I don’t think most kids find very motivating. (When was the last time you heard a kid say, “My FAVORITE thing is prepping for a standardized test!”)
Now I know that there are schooled children who love to read. Maya’s friend Greta is an example, but once school starts, her reading will mostly be limited to assigned items and homework. I loved to read as a kid, but that was before ‘more is better’ had fully kicked in, and I rarely had any homework. Which left much more time for reading things I chose, at least until college. After college I needed almost two years of ‘deschooling’ before I felt motivated to pick up a book again and read for pleasure. If I was ever asked to write down the things I have learned in my life, there would be two main categories; experiential learning (which is by far the larger of the two) and book learning. Most of the book learning happened after my formal schooling ended. The exceptions are few and far between.
So whenever I have a moments hesitation about what we do and how we approach learning, I think of that. My kids’ whole lives are about experiential learning and book learning. Not textbooks or schoolbooks – but books they choose because something draws them in to the story or the idea. And they learn a lot this way. They remember the things they learn and so far they are happy and confident in their lives and in themselves.
Hmm, I’m advocating more time on their own, more reading and more life experience?
What do you know. In some ways, more is better.