Wednesday, April 17, 2024

But can they read?

Luther famously championed public education for children but not for the generic purpose of education itself.  His desire was for people to be able to read the Scriptures.  Now, it would seem that education is for nearly every purpose except that.  But in our penchant for making schools responsible for so many other things, it just might be that reading itself has gone wanting as a skill and ability.

Some blame the politicization of schools and it is certainly true that our schools have become a politicized environment.  While this is not true strictly in the sense of Republican or Democrat, it is true that we as a nation have begun to use the school system as a social incubator in which to try our new ideas about everything.  This includes the subjects of ordinary instruction (new math) but it increasingly also includes the implementation of controversial social engineering such as the alphabet soup of sexual desire and gender orientation.  There may have been a time when it was about which books were suggested or required reading and which books were banned.  We all remember the games played by political groups to get things on or off of reading lists.  The unfortunate outcome of all of this is that this has been accompanied by a dramatic decline in the reading skills of our youth and our adults.

Some of this is not surprising.  Surely every generation has felt that the younger cohort is going to hell in a handbasket!  Hasn't it been the common complaint of teachers at every level that their students are simply not as prepared as previous generations?  Even Socrates complained about this and with him every teacher since. That does not mean they were wrong or the stereotype of the modern student ill-equipped to handle anything without a screen is wrong.  Despite No Child Left Behind or Common Core, every generation thinks the younger generation is failing to make the grade or cut as they did.  I once compared the requirements for graduation in the early 1900s in Minnesota to the present day curriculum and expectations.  You already know how we fared today.  It was not even a horse race.

There are reasons for this.  The age of children were raised with ubiquitous screens is now college age.  It is no coincidence that the iPhone itself, originally released in 2007, has has less than salutary effects on our ability to read and our endurance at reading.  This book is often tossed aside in favor of the dopamine hit they get from their omnipresent screens.  In contrast, the pleasures of the page are much more subtle.  COVID-19 gets blamed. The necessity of those measures put in place during the pandemic is still up for debate but not the learning loss of those who were in school at the time.  Across every level of education we find a profound impact that will continue to be felt for the next decade or more. In any case, it should be no surprise that online is not the same as inclass.  Don't forget the hate the phonics folks who insisted upon ditching what had been used for generations.  And there are those standardized tests, perhaps a distraction but now consuming a very important part of a child's whole educational experience.  Reading and writing are not what they used to be yet this is not mere nostalgia but a growing awareness that while we concerned about what our kids were reading, they did not learn to read at all.

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