Friday, January 20, 2012

Are schools making our children illiterate to make a profit?

Professional writer and filmmaker Peter Kowalke didn't start reading until he was 11 which wasn't a problem for him because he didn't go to school.  He explained it to me this way.  

In school you read about doing things.  I preferred to spend my early childhood doing things rather than reading about doing things. 
He shared that this wasn't even something he thought about much.  When learning to read independently became more of a priority for him, he began picking up reading and from that point on there was no turning back. Peter is not unusual.  Dr. Peter Gray studies young people who were never schooled because they were unschooled or attended a Democratic school. The age these children learned to read has a wide range from about 4 - 14 years old. He found that when not coerced or forced, EVERY child learns to read well and by age 15 it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a child who began reading at 4 and one who began in later years. (Note: This did not include children with severe cognitive impairment or those who don't speak English.)  For those unfamiliar with unschooling or Democratic schooling, it provides children with a natural learning environment where they have access to plenty of resources and support, but learning is not forced and children are given the freedom to learn what they choose when they choose. 

Reading proficiency among fourth grade students
From Students First 

There is plenty of information, research, and numerous case studies that point to the fact learning to read and write will come as naturally to children as learning to walk and talk if provided a literate and supportive environment where passions are honored. Unfortunately, school was not designed this way.  In school all children are expected to learn at the same rate and in the same way and if they don't, they are labeled, left back, and left out. What's more, in today's accountability climate, the same is happening to many of their teachers.

Most recently, we've been led to believe the cure to the literacy problem in our country can be solved by testing even more. It is thought that this will enable us to figure out where the problems lie within each student and determine who the "bad teachers" are so we can replace them with others who are good at getting the mandated results. But does obsessively dissecting what a student is doing really help them get better? Imagine if we did this while children were learning to walk or talk? Can't all this lab rat analysis take the joy out of what the child is doing? We also need to ask ourselves, are our best teachers really those who can produce good test takers? Ironically, there is new research coming out that indicates that standardized testing leads to a dramatic decrease in the joy of reading. Perhaps even more importantly, education expert Alfie Kohn explain how teachers are killing students motivation to read by relying on coercion and extrinsic inducements.

Could this all be on purpose? All this focus on testing and forcing has resulted in a nation where an alarming 67% of 4th grade students are being identified as not being able to read proficiently by the arbitrary time government officials say they should be. Could it be that the government is wrong about when it is that students should be proficient and by forcing a factory model of learning they are actually keeping students behind? Could it be that Americans are being purposely mislead to feed the money-hungry testing and publishing companies that are now literally pulling in billions of dollars? After all, like it or not, this is huge business! These are companies that are backing and supporting politicians. These are the companies who came together and stood arm in arm with the politicians from each state in the creation of the Common Core standards and now stand to make billions in profits . Are American schools actually causing the illiteracy issue because it results in a tremendous amount of money for big business rather than useful resources for children?

And, come on! Let's face it. Teachers were trained to develop materials for teaching and they are experts at assessment. Why on earth do we need to pay someone else to do the work teachers were hired to do?

If 2/3rds of children aren't reading on level, isn't it clear that perhaps it is not the children or the teachers that are the issue??? Maybe the developmental level identified is wrong or maybe there is purposely a curriculum in place that makes us want to do more testing, test-prepping, and publishing of materials to meet a "crisis" that is non-existent for those who venture to learn to read and write without the benefit of school.

Perhaps this chart below explains the impetus to do this to children. With 5.3 billion dollars out there for the taking, there is a significant incentive to perpetuate the problem.

A little less coercion, force, and mandating that every person achieves by date of manufacture can go a long way in saving our children and saving dollars for our education system. Will this happen? Probably not. There are too many people who stand to profit off our children.

You can keep the conversation about this going on my Facebook page here or in my learning group here.

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