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For the Love of Reading

Imagine if I told you, an adult who reads for entertainment, that you’ll now be required to answer a question with a written response every time you put down a book or an article. The articles will have more questions, with both multiple choice and long written responses. They’ll ask you questions like this: 
What is the purpose of this sentence? They had a tiny yard. 
Is it A.) To tell you the size of their yard or B.) To explain why they built a tree house (That’s an actual question from my son’s homework last night. The correct answer is B.)


And books…well, to make sure you understand what you’ve read, you’ll have to write short responses every time you read, as well as a longer summary and review when you finish the book.


I’m a writer, and that doesn’t sound like “reading for pleasure” to me.  The thing is, I’m also a teacher. I know that you need kids to read, and you need them to get better at reading as fast as possible, because your paycheck depends on it. Even the ones who didn’t eat breakfast this morning or any morning. Even the ones who speak English as a second language. Even the ones who hate reading because it’s hard and boring and just doesn’t make sense.


No child left behind, right?


You need them to read, and you have to hold them accountable, and you have to prove that you tried, even if you can’t show growth.


My fifth grade son starts two full weeks of standardized testing Monday. My third grader already completed his. I expected the homework to decrease at this point. Silly, I know. Instead, my older son’s online lessons increased from two to five. That means five online lessons in addition to his hour+ of old fashioned paper and pencil homework.


But the real kicker is for my third grader. The one who already finished his tests. Instead of nine online lessons per week, in addition to regular homework, he now has sixteen. Sixteen online lessons per week. Plus homework. Plus projects. Plus “pleasure” reading and responses every night. Except, when is he supposed to do this reading for fun?


I know, I know. I could homeschool them. I could pull them from their accelerated/advanced magnet school. But it’s not just their school. This pervasive sickness is invading education culture in our country. I’m not venting to complain, but to lament.


They’re killing the love of reading.


If you want kids with higher lexile levels, make them fall in love. Hook them with whatever hooks them so they can’t put the words down. Make them hunger for it. Comic book superheroes, wimpy kids, princesses, elephants, or wizards away at boarding school. Feed whatever stokes that fire. Read aloud and silently, outside or on bean bags or stretched out on the floor. Open up their imaginations and pour stuff in until something sticks. Celebrate the day they’re late to class because they couldn’t stop reading. Let them draw their book reports, or just stand up and talk about what was awesome or what was cheesy, or write their own fan fiction with a new ending.
Because once they fall in love, they won’t be able to stop. They’ll read that longer, more complicated book because everyone’s talking about it at lunch, and it has a zombie and an evil alien warlord. Or they’ll learn what the word obsequiously means because that’s how that freshman acted around the student body president in that one contemporary romance.  


See, my son should be able to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with joy and anticipation and maybe even a little disappointment that the beginning is so long. He shouldn’t have to worry that if he doesn’t read the right number of pages each night, he won’t make his goal of 1,050 pages for the quarter, or that he might have to stop and read some easier, short books in between to complete the right number of reports.


There are some things you just can’t measure on standardized tests or additions to the portfolio. Every kid is different. If you teach a kid to love reading, maybe you won’t see the results right now. But you will change the world. You’ll change his or her world. And isn’t that what really matters? 
Music for today: Everything Is Wrong by Interpol. 

The Open Door

I’m often struck by the idea of privacy, and its frequent absence in our constantly media connected world. It’s an underlying theme in my novel Perception, and lately I’ve had the opportunity to question some real life issues with our expectations of privacy.

Last year a law passed in the state of Florida that prohibits educators from discouraging a parent from bringing an outside party to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting for his or her child. I won’t unpack all the particulars, and this isn’t a post about our education system in the US or our services for people with disabilities. Of course parents should be able to bring advocates to meetings. But that protection also extends to the media. If a parent chooses, she can bring the local news team, have them record the meeting, and broadcast it publicly. And the educator can’t show an emotion that could be construed as discouraging.  

You may ask, “If the educators don’t have anything to hide, why would they care?” My concern isn’t with the educators or the parents, but for the child.

I post photos of my kids on Facebook, and I’ve even put a few on my blog. At some point, they may not appreciate that, and there’s not anything I can do to take it back. When they’re teens, molding their own Internet-public images with pictures, videos, and words, they’ll have to live with the consequences of how they choose to represent themselves. Because if they act publicly, and someone else shares their information, there’s nothing they can do to take that back, either.

In the past two days, five people I encountered in real life said to me, “I saw Son #2’s [insert photo-worthy accomplishment]! That’s great, tell him congratulations.” I didn’t post this information to the Internet, and neither did my husband. I didn’t even get a notification through social media that I had been tagged in said event and photo album. It’s a great thing, and I’m proud of him. I’m not remotely bothered that my friend chose to share this information. But what if it had been something I didn’t want public? Or something he didn’t?

Future employers and friends may be able to see with one click a full biography of my kids’ lives, not of their making. Big Data scares me worse than Skynet.

While I was picking up my kids from school yesterday, I watched an adult yell animatedly at the child in her care. (I was in the car with my windows closed, so I did not hear what she said.) I wondered if I pulled out my phone, videoed the exchange, and showed it to her, how she would feel. Would she be proud of words and actions? Would I have been in my rights to take that video and upload it, as an example what a screaming parent looks like? And how would it affect the child, to have that moment immortalized?

Should children have a right to an expectation of privacy? For my hypothetical child with an IEP, should a parent have the right to expose her child’s disability and the comments made by a team of people about her, to the world via the local news, even if her intention was to fight for that child’s rights?

Like a friend of mine says weekly, I’m glad All the Things–Internet, Mobile Phones, etc.–weren’t around in this capacity when we were teenagers.

Music for today: Every Breath You Take by The Police