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Should Reading Be So Hard?

by Paolo Martin

Like most people, I believed in a lot of things as a kid.  Yes, Santa Claus - up until I was in seventh grade (don't you judge me)!  Vampires, werewolves, that stepping on a crack would break the devil's back, that I'd die if I didn't hold my breath as I was passing through a cemetery.  But it didn't stop there.  I believed that if I concentrated hard enough, I could make things move with my mind, transport myself to another time in space, or even make telepathic contact with people and cause them to do whatever I wanted.  When the Angels beat the Giants in the 2002 World Series, I could easily have been convinced that I had personally willed the miraculous comeback.  Augusten Burroughs calls this Magical Thinking:  "A schizotypal personality disorder attributing to one's own actions something that had nothing to do with him or her and thus assuming that one has a greater influence over events than is actually the case." 

            Well, I have to admit that I've come down from the clouds since my youth.  But I think that as a teacher, I've occasionally (O.K., maybe more than occasionally) fallen prey to "magical thinking."  I fall prey to it when I let myself believe it is through the sheer strength of my will that my students remember to say "please" and "thank you" or that a force within me led a student to write a stellar personal statement which gained him admission to an Ivy League school.  Have any of you experienced "magical thinking," too?  Or have you been in a space where you seriously thought you could "will" your love of literature and reading onto your kids?  I've been doing a lot of soul-searching lately and have realized a few things:  1) I have great intentions for my kids when I try to do what I can to get them to love reading.  Whether or not they really love reading, I know that I can only do my best to get them to that place lest I inadvertently cause them to hate it because of the torturous process of getting them to see it my way!  2) Reading shouldn't be so hard for kids.  Reading isn't like telepathically moving things with the mind or blinking one's way into another time.  It shouldn't be so hard that we see the veins throbbing in our children's temples as they are asked repeatedly to sound out the words they're not familiar with.  They should save the magical thinking for things that really matter - like floating in air and the tooth fairy.

            According to a commentary entitled "Reading Shouldn't Be Such Hard Work" by Alison Thompson, children don't have the patience or love for reading books anymore.  She writes, "[C]hildren leave school unable to read and a quarter of the young haven't read a book in the past year.  For many hard-pressed families and schools, reading has become too much like hard work."  With the drudgery of some reading programs which employ rote tasks that aren't applicable to authentic and meaningful textual experiences, I fear that we make reading much harder for kids than it should be - much harder than "magical thinking."  If I were in their shoes, I'd prefer to spend my mental energy trying to telepathically set the books on fire rather than on working through the tedium of those reading lessons.  Wouldn't you?

Tags: reading programs, reading instruction, student reading, childhood reading

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