Seriously Questioning the Importance of Reading
Beverley Paine, 2004
I have a tendency to ask provocative questions about reading - like these:
Has anyone thought about what reading really does to people? Have you ever asked the question why is reading so important? Asked if humans, or the planet as a whole ecosystem, are better off, because humans decided to use their brains to read? Is it such a tragedy that some people can't read? Who are the people pushing reading onto the general population? What are their agendas? What are they trying to push? And why? Is reading essential to human survival?
Now, I love reading, and I am a self confessed reading addict. Show me a reader who isn't (try sitting on a train and not reading the advertising seven times over!) I would definitely not go back to illiteracy. But do I have the right to coerce others, either directly or indirectly, into learning how to read? Especially young people, who often have no way of defending themselves against such coercion.
Perhaps a sympathetic case can be made about the discrimination that exists against non readers. In a literacy based society non readers are marginalised, made to feel inadequate, labeled as 'dumb' or 'stupid'. Such a case would make interesting reading!
Many young children are severely disadvantaged at school because they learn to read later than their peers. These children are considered illiterate by age eight, and are classified as learning disabled, or children with learning difficulties. Many will not shrug off the social stigma attached to such labels, and will not reach their full potential as adults. Millions of dollars are spent annually trying to redress this problem. Illiterate people are considered dysfunctional.
This a very sad way to describe very useful and otherwise talented human beings. Reading has been made available to the general population only in the last century or more, and yet civilisation progressed quite adequately before this. The whole person used to be valued for what he or she had to offer the community, and the humble field, factory worker or house keeper had an important role in life.
I am not advocating a return to past eras. Or illiteracy. But I am pointing out that social survival is possible without literacy, and that people with minimum reading skills in a literate society should not be considered damaged or dysfunctional, but should be considered for what they can offer the community. All of their skills should be considered, fostered and encouraged. Literacy is not necessarily a prerequisite for success.
The exaggerated emphasis on literacy and reading on young children in schools is misplaced. The result can be damaging to social and psychological development. Curriculums should encompass holistic development of children, balancing learning activities with more conversation and action. It is time to end the dominance of books and bring education back into balance.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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