So, looks like the media and the politicians are getting their collective knickers in a knot because a bunch of fourth graders didn’t get great marks in an international reading test. Poor kids, they’re the Australian Swimming team of the month. The response will be pretty predictable – the unions will call for more money, the politicians will blame the teachers (I believe they’ve already started), the media will blame a leftist curriculum and call for ‘back to basics’ and Tony Abbott will blame the Carbon Tax.
In my opinion, none of these things are useful (though the money could be, but I’ll get back to that.) The biggest problem with education in Australia is, quite simply, the low status of education in Australia.
Teachers are constantly put down, ridiculed and told that they’re not smart enough in the media. Science news is mostly contained to the ‘quirky facts’ section of the paper, or presented in the same breath as crackpot ideas from the internet (look at the fluoride debate in the Qld media over the weekend). Our ‘role models’ aren’t writers and mathematicians and scientists, but sports people and actors. And reading and writing is so dismissed in Queensland that the government stopped a minuscule amount of funding for writing awards (but horse racing is well funded up here).
It gets worse. Get into a school and listen to what the experts are telling you about reading, and all you’ll hear are programs and teacher jargon – phonemic awareness, reciprocal reading, guided reading . . . all things which lead to what Kelly Gallagher calls Readicide. Hands up if you can remember a book ‘killed to death’ by overzealous questioning, analysing and over reading? I can add Frankenstein, Cannily Cannily, Sally’s Story and The Outsiders to any list you just compiled!
Do you want my very simple way to improve reading in this country? Encourage a love of reading.
That’s it, simple. Give kids time to read. Give them a choice of material to read. Celebrate reading. Make it important. Stop over testing. Stop over teaching.
The money I talked about before? Put it towards classroom libraries. Put it towards author visits in schools.
Teacher education? Let them read books! Let them spend a day reading picture books or novels or non fiction or comic books. Let them become passionate about something, because that’s how they make their students passionate.
The media? Celebrate authors! Promote authors, put them on the front page. Write articles about reading to young children and about how to talk about books with school age kids. Make authors role models and leaders!
The curriculum? Give it back to the teachers, like they do in the best education countries in the world. Trust the teachers and let them bring their passions to the table. And let them have books and reading time!
There’s so so so much I could (and probably will) talk about on this subject – it’s one I’ve been passionate about for years. But if all the things the media and politicians suggest haven’t worked over the last ten years, maybe it’s as simple as getting people passionate again!
What makes you passionate about reading? What would you like to know about reading in schools?