I was greatly saddened by a post that I read last night by discouraged reading teacher Sandra Stiles at Musings of a Book Addict. Sandra's school district is requiring her to follow a particular, proscribed curriculum, which she's sure will teach the kids (many of whom have no books at home) to hate reading. A particularly heinous part of the program is that kids who finish their workbooks early are only allowed to read books from a program-selected list of 8 titles. Any "pleasure reading" is expected to take place at home (hardly a realistic thing to expect from kids who never see pleasure reading in school). Sandra (who read some 70 kids' books this summer, in large part so that she could make recommendations to her students) is taking a stand. She says:
"So the 1200+ books that I have purchased and placed on my shelf are for naught. Oh did I mention they will be doing fidelity checks to make sure we are following the program to the T? How degrading. Do I disobey and work the program only a portion and try to teach them about good books? I will tell you this. I decided to become a teacher to teach students. Not to teach them to hate reading. I will do as usual.Against the district I will modify my program and teach them about good books and put good books in their hands and if they keep those books then I will go out and buy more. Until they fire me I refuse to fail my students."
Sandra's is not an upbeat post, but it is one that I think people should be aware of. We can't fight these sorts of practices if we don't know about them. You can also read reactions to Sandra's post from Karen at Literate Lives, Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone, and Donalyn Miller at The Book Whisperer. Sarah's Reading Zone post is particularly detailed, and has generated several comments in response from teachers. Also worth a read is a followup post in which Sandra thanks others for their support, but also laments the reading teachers that she encounters who don't read.
And don't even get me started on the money being spent on these canned "literacy" programs and on testing, instead of on books. As Sarah said:
"... the millions of dollars spent annually on reading programs should be funneled to school and classroom libraries. We should be booking author visits, connecting students with real live writers and creators. We should be buying novels, graphic novels, realistic fiction, non-fiction, every genre of books for our schools. We should be exposing students to real text with real stories."
Schools should be growing readers. Some are, of course, and that's a wonderful thing. But Sandra's situation is a travesty. I am grateful for this virtual community, which allows people from around the world to feel Sandra's pain, and be outraged by it.