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To Read Means to Succeed By Jason DeThomas UNC Connection March 3, 2008 Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings spoke on April

15, 2008 about our current educational status. She says we have progressed and plans to issue a report explaining how. But we had a report like that in early April, another just six months ago, and also 25 years ago that all say the opposite. So whats going on? Education Weekly reports that she said We have righted the ship with the intensity of focus on the individual needs of every child. She then also said were going to have to pick up the pace considerably. EdWeek continues by saying The secretary plans to issue a white paper describing how far weve come and how far we need to go, she said. She also plans to deliver speeches and organize events highlighting the findings of that paper. She said this on the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. "A Nation at Risk" was released in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by then Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell. It explained that our lack of educational standards and progress threatened our nation. The report supported this claim with some convincing data. Another report, issued just last year, says basically the same thing. "To Read or Not to Read," released in November 2007 by the National Endowment for the Arts, illustrates with countless numbers how we are still failing at our task. The study also indicates that reading for pleasure is on a decline among older age groups (high school and above), and with it go numerous scores in reading and writing. Also associated with literacy at this level is the level of "good" citizenship, job opportunities, ranges of income and overall capability in today's world. A Nation at Risk seems more oriented on the persuasive and rhetorical aspects of education. We are American! We must be great! We must overcome the other nations! We are American! While the piece does have quite a bit of supporting information and statistics, the basis does not appear to be the actual facts themselves, but how it is impacting us as people and more importantly, as Americans. However, thats sort of understandable, that was 25 years ago. To Read or Not to Read, on the other hand, is a quagmire of stats, graphs, and chartsall of which show declines in testing scores and ability of students all around our nation. Instead of being simply

persuasive, this report seems determined to show a definite change in standards and performance through a vast array of numbers. Thats fine, its just different. But together, the two reports link hands with the same message: we are not as well educated or as capable as the generations before us or other nations, and the trend is still on a downward slide. The first bit of To Read is concerned with the number of people and students who read for pleasure. They notice that the number has declined, of course, and also point out a strong correlation between reading for pleasure and testing scores on reading and writing. "Reading for pleasure correlates strongly with academic achievement. Voluntary readers are better readers and writers than non-readers. Children and teenagers who read for pleasure on a daily or weekly basis score better on reading tests than infrequent readers. Frequent readers also score better on writing tests than non- readers or infrequent readers." ("To Read") Clearly, reading for pleasure stimulates the mind to develop the reading and writing sections of the brain, and as such, academic performance in those areas is improved. I find it personally disappointing to see that parents are not compelling their children to read, and simply allow them to rot their minds with television all day. Television requires no interaction and very little mental participationyou simply sit and stare and absorb. It takes no thinking since it is dumbed down for the lowest common denominator (which seems to be our students today). When I was young(er), my mom would read herself and, since we could not read, would tell us of the stories that she had read the night before. By doing this, she made us also desire to discover what happened to the characters, the lives, the worlds of the people in the stories. The only way to find out was to read. Additionally, she only allowed us to watch an hour of TV a day, most often directly after school as a bit of a break before we did our homework and chores. Also, being an English major, I have a great appreciation for literature across a wide range of categories and genres, so the decline in reading for pleasure also strikes on a more personal level. My goal in life is to be a successful writerin journalistic endeavors, poetry, short stories, essays and, most importantly, novels. As such, the decline in reading for pleasure indicates a much tougher market than ever before. How disappointing. Nation at Risk states International comparisons of student achievement, completed a decade ago, reveal that on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison

with other industrialized nations, were last seven times. It continues with Some 23 million American adults are functionally illiterate by the simplest tests of everyday reading, writing, and comprehension. Looking at these statistics, Americans are utterly failing to educate our youth to a satisfactory degree in comparison with other industrialized countries. Add to that that 23 million adults are functionally illiterate and we have a huge problem. How can a person be informed about common issues if they can't read? I realize that television can present certain big-name information, but that tends to focus on the sensational: the stars, the drugs, the scandals. Very rarely is legitimate and learned or scholarly material able to be gleaned from television. Radio is only slightly better, but not always. Reading still serves as the foundation for the development of this country. Reading pamphlets, essays and books during the American Revolution and the beginnings of this nation were a mainstay for informed opinion and decision-making at all levels of society. The declines in literacy and educational skills are appalling. To Read also indicates a correlation between career opportunities and level of education or literacy, which is no big surprise. More educated people make more money, and thats pretty much common knowledge. What I didnt know were the links between learning and good citizenship and culture. "Good readers play a crucial role in enriching our cultural and civic life. Literary readers are more than 3 times as likely as non-readers to visit museums, attend plays or concerts, and create artworks of their own. They are also more likely to play sports, attend sporting events, or do outdoor activities. 18- to 34-year-olds, whose reading rates are the lowest for any adult age group under 65, show declines in cultural and civic participation. Good readers make good citizens. Literary readers are more than twice as likely as non-readers to volunteer or do charity work." ("To Read") Obviously, reading tends to lead to well-rounded citizens overall, as well as enabling more career opportunities. Furthermore, the correlation between reading and voting cannot be ignored. As mentioned, reading was mainstay of politics and informed opinion during the formation of our nation, and as such, it continues to be associated with politics on a fundamental level. Speeches, press releases, documents, legislation, laws, rhetoric, public appealall these things are centered on words. Literacy. Education.

Nation at Risk reports that "Business and military leaders complain that they are required to spend millions of dollars on costly remedial education and training programs in such basic skills as reading, writing, spelling, and computation. The Department of the Navy, for example, reported to the Commission that one-quarter of its recent recruits cannot read at the ninth grade level, the minimum needed simply to understand written safety instructions. Without remedial work they cannot even begin, much less complete, the sophisticated training essential in much of the modern military." That means that 25% of our military personnel are not as literate as freshman in high school, meaning not even a smidgeon of high school education. Were taking people with the intelligence and learning of an 8th grader to defend this country? Isnt that a little like giving children guns and telling them to kill people? Then we spend millions of dollars to teach these overgrown, gunwielding children to readsomething they could have learned for practically nothing if they hadnt either dropped out or been kicked out of school. I think its pretty ridiculous in the first place that the military has even accepted those people at all. How can we hope to have intelligent and humane defense systems if our soldiers are functionally less learned than a 13 year-old? Thirteen is barely old enough to have experienced puberty, much less the rigors and trials of war, of military action. Finally, Nation at Risk reports "Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents." For the entire history of our species, the children have taken the place of the parents: the son usurps the father, the daughter usurps the mother. It is written into myth for centuries, including Greek myth with the Titans, especially Cronus, the youngest Titan, who overthrew his father Uranus at the behest of his mother, Gaia. Then the son of Cronus, Zeus, overthrew his father and ruled the Olympians. Shakespeare also commonly featured such themes Hamlet is ripe with parent/child dynamics. More modern learned people, such as Freud, have also suggested that the son (the daughter is somewhat reversed) first identifies with the mother, then the father, then rebels against the father and tries to take his place. This all occurs during the formation of our identities. Such is deeply ingrained into our culture, the overthrow of the parents by the children, and it also corresponds with natural selection. Strong parents make strong children who rule over the weaker after

their strong parents are dead. If we cannot overcome our parents, how can we rule and teach the next generation? How can natural selection work properly if the next generation is entirely weaker than the first? How can we even survive as a nation, especially since other nations are quickly surpassing us, and have been for a quarter century? And yes, literary skills are strength, especially in modern society. Nation at Risk reports that In our view, formal schooling in youth is the essential foundation for learning throughout one's life. But without life-long learning, one's skills will become rapidly dated and that [We need to] reverse the current declining trend--a trend that stems more from weakness of purpose, confusion of vision, under use of talent, and lack of leadership, than from conditions beyond our control. I completely agree on both counts, but if this declining education trend has been in the mix for 25 yearsthen what are we doing? If we have been getting less educated for a quarter of a century, how can we hope to reverse the trend by continuing on in the same fashion? We continually test and standardize tests to try and come up with ways to evaluate our teaching techniques, but it doesnt work. A few generations ago we didnt have CSAPs and a bunch of tests to determine if students were doing wellwe simply looked at their grades. I think that our mechanization of education has had a negative impact on teaching. We now teach students how to cheat by teaching to the test that they have to pass next. I always thought the point of SATs were to see what you had learned in class and then differentiate that with what you might have learned either on your own, through advanced classes, or simply in passing or reading a magazine. Now theres SAT prep courses, SAT practice books with sample tests, and all manner of cheats. There are too many students, too few teachers, and too many tests. The test of a students knowledge should be in the classroom, under the supervision of a qualified teacher familiar with the material. Why give grades at all if only the standardized tests matter? Why have classes at all, why don't we just have CSAP and SAT prep courses? The decline in reading for pleasure is directly related to the stresses of modern education in this country. With so many studies and tests to take, books to read for class and homework to do, reading for pleasure becomes another chore in a long list of undesirables. We need to get back to our roots, where the students and the teachers form a bond through the knowledge and the teaching instead of through the tests a teacher is required by law to administer.

We need to make high schools more collegiate in scope, progress, and curriculum, so the students can bond more with educators. This will not only develop a sense of community, but if the teacher is their friend and genuinely concerned with imparting knowledge instead of saving their job by having students perform well, then students will find school less of a job and more creatively intriguing. That will get students to have more free time, and to perhaps not look at books with the evil eye. But we continue on the path of standardization. But how can that workwe are not standard. No two people in America are the same or come from the same place, have the same experiences, etc. EdWeek, the same article as previously cited, reports The United States has fallen even farther behind as other countries make concerted efforts to improve their education systems, the Strong American Schools Campaign said in A Stagnant Nation, released [in April]. So25 years ago we were behind. Six months ago, in November 2007, were behind. And in April, which just ended, we were still behind. So how can we have righted the ship as Spellings put it? What can her report possibly tell us that we didnt learn a week, six months, 25 whole years ago? EdWeek goes on to say Our nation is attempting to provide a quality education to every single person who shows up at the schoolhouse door, [Spellings] said. That is particularly difficult given the diversity of the student population, with students from all over the world enrolling in U.S. schools, she said. Not every [country] has that same aspiration or those same challenges. So were using standardized tests across the board to try and teach an insanely diverse student body? No wonder our education systems are failingwe have uneducated people making decisions about education. How can we possibly hope to teach students that diverse by making every different person take the same exact test? It defies logic. Yes, we need some way to evaluate our teaching establishments. Yes, we face issues that not many other nations face. And yes, were still failing. The problem lies not in our education systems, but the means weve developed to evaluate them. Students can't relate to teststhey relate to people, to their teachers, parents, and other students. If weve done well in the generations before standardized testing, why don't we look back and see what they did so well and try that? We need to go back to the days when teachers taught students the material of the class, not the material of some useless test. CSAPs? Please. I dont know a single person that actually took them seriously. I doodled in the answer boxes, a friend of mine

answered math problems only in haiku, and another person literally did not answer a single question. Obviously, standardized testing is not the answer. Try reading more.