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« Situational librarianship | Main | Procrastination - is there a cure? »

Soft bigotry of low expectations in reading

In contrast, Kim (2004) estimated that just reading five books over the summer results in a gain of about three percentiles, about the same as the huge investment required by Read 180. Stephen Krashen

I was struck once again when reading Scholastic's School Libraries Work, 2016 Edition just how unjust reading instruction can be in too many schools. In study after study, quality library programs lead by progressive librarians build reading skills by getting kids to read. This is not exactly news. One of my heroes, Stephen Krashen, has been linking free voluntary reading to improved reading scores since the early 90s.

So when schools start to spend vast sums of money on computerized reading "systems" and under fund school libraries and cut professional library staff, I worry. Do these expensive "read the text on the screen, take the quiz, advance to the next level" programs improve test scores? Results are mixed. But let's assume that programs like Read 180 provide effective intervention for struggling readers and really do improve reading abilities as measure on state tests. Fantastic - we as educators can now say "job well done" and pat ourselves on the back.

If simply the ability to read is the ultimate goal of our schools.

Personally, making reading ability not reading attitude the sole measure of success for students is the very definition of "soft bigotry of low expectations." As Mark Twain once observed, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them." My goal as a librarian and teacher has always been to create "life-long critical readers." Citizens who not only can read, but do read.

  • Out of love of the act.
  • Out of a need to know the truth.
  • Out of the need to view the world through the eyes and souls of others.
  • Out of the need to be changed by what one reads.

Do we spend so much time getting students, especially struggling readers, to pass tests that we actually kill their enjoyment of reading? Solving illiteracy but creating masses of the alliterate.

Think twice before you put a child in front a computer to learn how to read instead putting that child in the hands of a caring librarian who uses just the right book.

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Reader Comments (4)

I agree completely. Increasingly educators and policy makers seem to believe that machines can teach better than people, and in doing so, they betray our children. Helping a child love reading by providing real books, conversations, support, and encouragement is priceless -- and no machine can do that.

And while getting kids to decode words and pass literacy tests is important, the long term goal -- the most important goal -- must always be to help kids discover for themselves the magic of reading so that they choose to read for pleasure.

And one more thing, teaching is an extremely human profession - we teach because we care about kids, and kids learn when they know they're cared for. To imagine that real deep teaching and learning can happen in the absence of a human relationship seems to me to devalue not only the teaching profession but also a child's deep need for relationships with teachers, librarians, and other elders in the community.

I so agree. I have seen expensive programs drain the love of reading - or the potential future love of books - out of some really beautiful minds. Thanks for this post; I will be sharing!

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Frisella

I was a below average junior high student with undiagnosed dyslexia and zero interest in reading but I would hang out in the library and look at pictures in history books. The librarian noticed my interest. He challenged me to read the first chapter of this huge history book. I got hooked and Walter Lord's "A Day of Infamy" became the first book I ever read and it started a life long addiction. In my first year of high school the librarian overheard my friends and I discussing a science fiction movie so she introduced us to likes of Clarke and Asimov. All four of us found a new love. I still have dyslexia but I also rarely less than two books (1 history & 1 scifi) on the go at any one time, and have had an excellent career & years of enjoyment thanks to those 2 librarians.

March 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Thank you, Maya. I appreciate your reply.


Thanks, Robin. Share away!


Hi Ron,

It is stories like yours that keep educators, especially librarians, in the field. Thanks so much for this.


April 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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