No Reading Aloud, Mr. Troublemaker

A Follow-up to “No Reading Allowed (Aloud) in the Classroom.”

To recap: Last year, Charlie's 5th grade teacher was prohibited from reading books, poetry, etc., aloud to the students (because of standardized test prep and the literacy coach's insistence that the children should read for themselves). This whole scenario made my head come to a point, promoting my rant.

Flash forward to last week. Charlie, now in middle school, visited his old elementary school last week for their open house. He went to the classrooms of his former teachers, including his first grade teacher who finally looks just a little bit older. (She was 23 when he had her.) He saw his favorite teacher who, out of luck, he had for fourth and fifth grades. Mr. Troublemaker (not his real name) was the perfect teacher for Charlie. He holds an advanced degree in the education of gifted children and he'd been teaching long enough to know when to stray from the curriculum to give the kids what they need -- this is not something the "standards" test-driven administration appreciates. He rose to the challenge of having some very precocious kids in his class and was able to keep them engaged and excited about learning, differentiating between the various ability levels of his students.

The Phantom Reader

Husband visited with Mr. Troublemaker and asked him how things were going this year. What he found was a teacher on the verge of losing his spark; the thing that keeps teaching exciting for him. Earlier in the school year he was caught reading "The Phantom Tollbooth" out loud to his classroom and received a written reprimand and the threat of a suspension without pay if he ever does it again. He's finally given up and now goes completely by the book, never deviating. The precise qualities that made him such a wonderful teacher for our son and so many others are what he has to keep hidden. The other teachers Husband talked to universally complained about the run-up to state testing and the pressure they're receiving from administration to raise the school's overall score.

Children, all of us, need to be exposed to beautiful things. Words should be shared out loud. Poetry takes on a whole different meaning when read aloud. I know Mr. Troublemaker's principal well. I feel conflicted about her. We're in her debt for certain things. She was always accessible to us as parents and instrumental in getting Charlie into the forget-about-getting-into competitive charter school. Yet I'm frustrated with her single-minded approach to raising the test scores. In this neighborhood, I know what kind of households the kids are growing up in. Many of them will never be exposed to great literature in the home. It's a shame to limit them. I also feel that with all of this testing, beauty aside, the children aren't really even being challenged. They're learning a narrow set of subjects.

College is Simple

Regarding reading specifically, I've been completely underwhelmed. The state “tests” Charlie (and let’s remember that Charlie is 11 years-old) at “second year college” (maybe “third year” now) level reading; we think he’s right about where he should be for his age. The level of language they're exposed to in their reading programs is simplistic and not challenging at all. When Mr. Troublemaker read "Tom Sawyer" to his kids, they were hearing a much higher level of language than that which they're being exposed to in their state-approved materials. A look at a primer from 100 years ago is a unique experience. When I came across one a few years ago, I was surprised at the level of work the children were expected to know. It was much more advanced. It seems so ironic to me that the powers that be who seem to be striving for literacy are actually turning out a less literate group of graduates.

So let's keep hammering our children, dumbing things down for them, narrowing their horizons. Where will it take us?


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