Why Can’t Our Kids Read Writin’ These Days?
My granddaughter is in the fifth grade. She can’t read or write.
Well, she can read printed books. She likes those and reads them voraciously. She can invent stories, too — good ones, in my opinion. She can text. She can keyboard. She can print. She can’t write, or read what anybody else wrote — even in “a good hand.”
Recently, it shocked me to the core to find she was unable to read a simple Halloween poem that my now 40-something niece wrote as a grade school project long ago in Mississippi.
My niece Ashley had written a few rhyming lines on an orange cut-out pumpkin, glued the pumpkin on cardboard, then surrounded it with seasonal sketches. My sister found it tucked away somewhere and was taking it with her on her visit to her daughters and grandchildren in California. Southwest has the best deals out of RDU, which is a good deal for me, too. It means we get more frequent visits from my sister and brother-in-law.
I thought our delightful, very bright, very pretty granddaughter would get a kick out of this poem — she likes to make up poems and stories herself — so I showed it to her. She spent a long time studying it, then pointed to the word “trick” (in “trick or treat”) to ask what the last letter was.
She could not read that easy little poem. Despite years of top marks, a love of reading, and being a grade or two removed from that of the author, it was Greek to her. Nobody had taught her to read or write. They taught her to print, to read printed books, but not to develop her own handwriting or to be able to read that of others.
Anybody besides me think our schools should teach kids to read and write?
The state apparently thinks so, because it is item 5.08 on the N.C. Standard Course of Study Competency Goals for third grade in public schools. I asked if she had not been taught handwriting in the third grade.
“They did, for about a week,” she said. “Then they stopped.”
Stopped? They stopped?
There was a pretty loud moment of stunned silence before I turned away, leaving her to enjoy Ashley’s drawings of ghosts, pumpkins and witches. Last week I happened across her former principal (a good principal who is now heading another school) and asked about reading and writing and other things my English teacher mother would have thought important.
Apparently, there is no state test to measure handwriting. And, if it cannot be tested it will not be taught — even if it is on the Standard Course of Study the principal showed me how to find on the Internet. Simple as that. Funny thing was, I’d just been meeting with a crowd of sixth- and seventh-grade students and talking about how the Constitution was — well — written, back in 1787.
As “Ben Franklin,” I’d told them how Thomas Jefferson, since he could not attend in person as he was representing the United States in the court of France, sent four trunks of books to Philadelphia. That was so Madison and Franklin, Washington and Wilson and the others could study the ancient republics to see why they’d failed and avoid the same errors.
Of course, many of Jefferson’s books were in Latin, and many in Greek. Jefferson read and wrote both. The instructions he left for his own tomb are in Greek. In those days they thought an educated man should at least have five years of schooling and be able to read and write in more than one language.
That was then. Is this now? Is this what we want?
Contact John Chappell by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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