Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hukeb oN fonix, Communication, and Other Thursday Night Musings

Recently I tested my 9th & 10th grade students for grade level reading skills... Wait, perhaps, I should go back further...

Reading. All my life I have heard that reading matters. For me, always-the-reader, this message from educators and NBC service announcements was a white noise preaching to my lone little alto choir. I didn't need someone to sell me the benefits of reading. I enjoyed reading. I consumed books as a Fahrenheit 451 fire. But clearly, my story is not everybody's story. And certainly, reading doesn't even fit into the life stories of my students.

So how did Ms. Rookie's students perform on their reading placement tests, you ask? Low. Lower than they should have. Some are in the third grade still. Let me say that again: I have students who have made it into their sophomore year of high school reading at a third grade level. Their vocabulary is lost in a wasteland. Their comprehension isn't just failing to mention the elephant in the room, NOPE, my students, when reading, don't notice the part about the elephant even being in the room.

Now, this isn't everybody, a token few are even at a post high school level, but the majority of my students are reading below grade level. And I'm disheartened and angry and hysterical and disappointed and overwhelmed and frustrated and ill about this fact. You see, I teach Language Arts, the skills of reading and writing and recognizing the art and nuance of language, to people who are essentially illiterate.

Why are they illiterate? For some, English is not their native language. Some do not have a single book, excluding religious texts, in their homes. Some have learning disabilities. Some have never been to the public library. Some were never read to when they were little. And some just do not like to read. And Mom or Dad don't like/value reading. Or Mom and Dad or Great Aunt Ruth buy them books, encourage them to read, but their kid just won't do it. Their eyes scan the text, but their minds drift to other worlds like HALO or the skate park or Jessica Alba.

And it all makes me sick. You want my honest opinion? I believe we are becoming illiterate as a nation. Oh, we may be literate, even sophisticated in technology. Our minds may consume information at a rate so rapid we're left feeling drained by nightfall. But we are becoming a nation who cannot communicate effectively. And when communication fizzles, how do we express ourselves?

Listening to the candidates debate, drifting over blogs in the blogosphere, perusing the words my students write, I am weary. Our ability for communication seems to be waning into an abysmal future. Call me a language snob. Call me full of crap. Call me Ishmael. Call me Jonah. I don't care. I am worried about the diminishing face of literacy in our culture and society.

I write and I read because I want to connect with the essence of humanity. What does it mean to be human? What is the secret landscape of the mind? Effective communication turns the deepest fruit of who we are inside out, leaving the shining membrane of us as evidence: I feel, I think, I am. Language is what separates us from the animals, and somewhere over the past few decades, we've thrown that ability aside piece by piece.

And our next generation is worse off. Text messaging lingo consists of a rudimentary abbreviated vocabulary. What are we? Cave people?

I meet u

I know, I know, I'm ranting and I'm raving and my soap box is groaning under the weight of my intensity. My linguistic-guru brother might even tell me "Dear Rookie, language is always in flux, this is natural." But I am uncertain how to make up for years of illiteracy. I worry that without the language available to express the thought fully, the thoughts themselves might die away too. I worry that, when it comes to language, this generation gap is too wide. I worry that one day I will start talking, expressing the inside of myself, and no one will understand what I am saying.


Natalie said...

Wow! So sadly true.

Mrs. Bennett said...

Hey Ishamael, I never liked Moby Dick but I love to read. We grew up in a home where my mom read to us and we love reading. However my youngest sister somehow got skipped over, wasn't read to as much and is now not a strong reader and not a lover of books which is kind of sad. It is all in the home! How do the students feel about their low reading scores?

The Rookie said...

Mrs. Bennett, I met with them one on one and we made some goals for reading growth over the school year. Many were surprised, some laughed an uncomfortable laugh, and some were devastated.

Alice said...

That is so sad. I myself didn't think I enjoyed reading for a little while, then I learned I just needed to make different selections. ;) I wish I would have learned that sooner.

I am sad for those kids. I hope that it was a reality check that maybe they should work on it?

Yay for reading!!

The Lathrop's said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Lathrop's said...

I'm a dork - deleted my own comment - I'll get the hang of this "leave a comment" thing.

It is sad that a lot of kids get to HS (even graduate from HS) and their reading level is way below what it should be. With texting nowadays and spell check, well, I don't think its such a good thing. We've come to rely on it too much.

Just like when cashiers rely on the register to make change, heaven forbid something goes wrong and they have to make change the old fashioned way.

Thank goodness my boys love to read (and usually they comprehend it also). We've read to them since they were born. They see Doug & I read (I love to read). I read once a week in Jake's class (I used to do it in my other boys classes as well - I love reading a good kids book). We go to the library often - have been since the boys were little. I really think its important that you start early, that's what I have always heard.

Hope all goes well w/ the kids in your class - you'll have to let us know how it turns out at the end of the school year.

Jen said...

Love this post. I totally agree.

My brother-in-law's reading was poor until they started reading scriptures together as a family out loud, and that really seemed to help him.