Friday, May 30, 2014
I'm sure almost all of you have heard about LeVar Burton's wildly successful Kickstarter to bring back Reading Rainbow. The goal was a million dollars, and by the end of day three they will probably be hitting three million.
But almost as soon as the Kickstarter was opened, The Washington Post ran an article discouraging people from donating. You might want to reconsider that donation to the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter is completely wrong-headed and, I believe, points to one of the reasons why literacy is falling and continues to fall.
The article cites PBS' reason for canceling Reading Rainbow as "no longer the best way to teach kids reading skills." In the funding crunch of decreased taxpayer money for Public Broadcasting, there also came a tragic shift in the philosophy of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting:
"The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration...which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling.... Research has directed programming toward phonics and reading fundamentals as the front line of the literacy fight. Reading Rainbow occupied a more luxurious space — the show operated on the assumption that kids already had basic reading skills and instead focused on fostering a love of books."
In other words, Reading Rainbow was one more casualty of No Child Left Behind.
Reading Rainbow never had the goal of teaching children to read. As quoted above, it was all about fostering a love of books, the love of narrative structure, the love of story.
It is staggering to me that such a love is now considered to be simply a "luxury." And it is appallingly short-sighted. It begs the question: "what is reading for?" And if the answer is simply, "to minimally function in the world," then it's no wonder that literacy is dropping like a stone from the sky.
Phonics and spelling never caused anyone to fall in love with stories. They never introduced anyone to new ideas or different cultures. They never expanded anyone's idea of the world. The notion that we can create a literate populous simply by teaching them phonics and "fundamentals" is absurd. Why should kids care, if there is nothing to touch their imaginations? I've spent the last half hour looking at reading materials for different grades, and they are dreadful. Grinding sheets of uninteresting story snippets followed by multiple choice "comprehension" questions. I was a kid who loved to read, and I hated--HATED--the once-a-year assessment tests that included these kinds of questions. No wonder kids who are in these programs don't see anything positive about reading. There is none of the magic or wonder of good story-telling in that kind of learning.
Are phonics and spelling important? Certainly. Learning to read depends on them. But they are not the whole of the toolbox for learning to understand story and love reading. It's like teaching someone to use a hammer, a saw, and a screwdriver, and then stepping back and thinking you've taught them to build a doghouse. They cobble together something vaguely doghouse-shaped, and you lament that the doghouse is inadequate, but assume that all that's needed is better hammer, saw, and screwdriver skills. And when that doesn't work, you spend all your resources on new methods for teaching and testing hammer, saw, and screwdriver skills, never questioning if your student is missing some other important steps in learning how to use their skills to successfully build a project.
Will Reading Rainbow's return--onto the web and mobile apps--teach children phonics and spelling? No. But it will enrich their lives with story and enthusiasm for reading and books. It will help kids learn that their basic skills are for something more than just filling out comprehension worksheets and passing tests. And for our populous to be actually literate, those things are not a luxury item.
Sunday, May 25, 2014
I went to the pool for the second time today. Because it's the weekend, the main pool had no lap lanes, just one rope dividing the shallow end from the deep. The therapy pool had lap lanes, but there were at least two or three people in each one. So I decided to get in the main pool and just walk back and forth across the pool--short distances, but at least I was at a consistent depth. The first five minutes I was stuck inside my brain, trying to coach myself to a "this is recuperation; this is good" mentality.
And then an amazing thing happened. My body remembered how much I used to love to play in the pool. When I was in junior high, I would walk almost 2 miles every day that I could to go to the public pool. I didn't swim laps. I played tag and Marco Polo with friends; I dove off the low and high boards, climbed out and dove again dozens of times in a row; I just swam around for the fun of it.
When I was in high school and my first two years of college, we lived in an apartment complex that had a small pool. I was in that pool all summer. There were lots of teen girls who went to the pool and laid in the sun to tan, but not me. I swam and swam and swam. I would go by myself and toss a rock in, dive to the bottom to retrieve it, and toss it again. I would pretend to be a mermaid. When I was in college and working and not getting home until late in the evening after the pool was closed, I would climb over the fence and swim anyway.
Somewhere along the way, swimming turned into a goal-oriented activity--how many laps, how long. I got away from that some when we were in Hawaii and swimming in the ocean, but today I suddenly felt reconnected with the smell of chlorine meaning fun. I bobbed along, back and forth across the pool, eventually joined by another woman who couldn't get a lane and decided to try my workout instead. We laughed and chatted, and it was like those 15-minute friendships that you have when you're a kid on a playground: nothing lasting, but gratifying in the moment. There were a gazillion little kids playing in the water park, sliding on the slide, having fun. And I got to be one of them.
I feel so much more at peace with myself, because I found the fun again. On weekdays I will be relegated to the lanes, but I'm going to stop avoiding the weekends at the pool. I'm going to go and have myself some fun.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
The neurosurgeon's evaluation was, for the most part, good news. While the disc at the base of my spine just before the coccyx area starts is pretty much nonexistent at this point, and those bones are pushed out of alignment, he believes that I can avoid surgery through building up my core muscles and exercise. He is letting me start to swim again – in fact, encouraging swimming as the best form of exercise – and start to bike again! Running, however, is right out for the time being.
I have to start everything very slowly. Like he said go to the pool, walk in the water for a while, swim one lap. Or bike a mile. But he said that I can work my way back up to longer distances, as long as I do a lot of concentration on building up my core, which I also have to do slowly and carefully and gently.
I'm hoping to make at least two of my triathlons this summer. I will probably have to skip the first one, but he said to consult with my physical therapist about my progress before that. So maybe I'll get really really lucky.
The best news about all this, no knife!
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Yesterday evening Ferrett and I had an errand to run that took us close to a lovely park with a nice hike by a stream. We had Shasta with us and so we stopped and had the perfect kind of hike: the air was warm but not muggy, the sun was shining, a light breeze. Nothing strenuous, just holding hands and enjoying the peace that comes with water falls.
We watched a beautiful sunset as we drove home, and once we were safely inside, there was a terrific thunderstorm with lots of rain. When it came time to take the dog out for her last widdle, I expected to be huddled under an umbrella. Instead, I was looking up at a starlit sky while all around us--literally 360 degrees--there were lightning flashes in the distance. So I called Ferrett out and we strolled around the block in the warm, slightly damp air, watching the light show that was just distance enough that we couldn't hear thunder. That's what I call a perfect evening.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Tomorrow I see the neurosurgeon. I'm a little nervous, of course. And my back is feeling much better. There is a part of me that wants to cancel the appointment, but I know that is silly--and my hubby will drag me to the doctor's office himself if he had to!
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