One of the reasons we decided to homeschool our daughters was the inane “book-in-a-bag” program the Board of Education had going when Rebecca was in kindergarten. Instead of sending home interesting books that taught phonetic patterns, like Cat in the Hat or Hop on Pop, they sent home books that went something like this:
“I like red apples. I like green apples. I like yellow apples. I like apple pie.” While reading it I thought, “I like knocking myself unconscious with apples”, which would have been preferable to finishing the book. But I didn’t utter the charge, because I wanted to be an obedient mother and do what the school system told me.
It turns out that schools haven’t changed. I’m hearing from my friends with children in kindergarten about similar mind-numbingly boring books that are being sent home because—wait for it—schools want to encourage parents to read with their children. I can’t figure out why it hasn’t occurred to them that the best way to accomplish this may be to actually send home some interesting books that still help kids learn to read.
Another parent of a kindergarten child complained to me that her book contained a character named “Said”. The schools wanted to promote multiculturalism so minorities would feel included. So far, so good. But think about his name. The book went something like, “Said said, “let’s play ball!”. My friend’s son Evan was horribly confused. He knew how to pronounce the word “said”, but his mother declared him wrong. They were pronounced differently. That’s far too complex for a five-year-old to understand, but the school felt this was of crucial importance. Why not use the name Kamal, or Fatima? At least those are more or less phonetic. But choosing a name that’s exactly the same as a common English word is just phenomenally stupid, something only a bureaucrat could do.
This is a prime example of governments wasting money. Instead of hiring more teachers’ assistants, various Ministries of Education paid for someone to write guidelines for these books, to approve the books, and to purchase the books. That’s a lot of input into something so dumb, especially when much better books exist. And they sit quietly, waiting for you, at your public library.
If parents really want to promote reading with their children, a trip to the library is the first step. And reading with kids really does bring great benefits. Spend twenty minutes a day reading a good book—i.e. something that is actually interesting—and you’ll find you have a wonderful bonding time with your children without the disruption of televisions or computers. Your child’s vocabulary will improve, and they’ll develop a love of the written word which will stay with them forever.
Perhaps it seems almost archaic to be talking about books. After all, this is the electronic age, and everything is now computers. Our kids are likely to grow up online. So why care about books?
I think Marshall McLuhan had it right: the medium is the message. The internet is fast paced. It’s not there for deep analysis or quiet contemplation or runaway imaginations. People may “meet” each other online, but it doesn’t compare to meeting Anne of Green Gables, or Tom Sawyer, or Laura Ingalls. For years I’ve been hearing how people will soon read their books off of their Palm pilots, but I don’t think that’s true. I may practically live on my computer, but I still love the feeling of a book, and judging by the number that are still being published, I’m not alone. Besides, you can’t take the computer into a bubble bath like you can a good book.
Too often our children are deprived of great literature because it’s being squeezed out by the television, and the video games, and the computer. And the schools try so hard to be inclusive and politically correct that often the best stories are tossed aside. Thankfully, though, libraries still exist to invite us to enter new worlds, explore ancient ones, and learn more about ourselves in the process. A trip to the library isn’t just a trip downtown; it’s the beginning of a voyage of discovery for many children, awakening a world that is richer than computers and more vivid than the brightest video games.
And all of this is available at your public library for free. Just don’t drop your book in the bathtub.