this morning Cat," one of the dog walkers told me as he went past.
It is still early as I am writing this but it was even earlier when he spoke to me. He must have been up well before 5am to be dressed, have at least glanced at the paper, and then be out walking the dog.
Then he said,
"And I agree with you."
Well, that's a nice change. I wonder whether other people will. A couple of days ago I wrote about the way we are apparently "falling behind" in education. The letter in the paper was about the importance of children being able to read.
Of course it is important for children to be able to read but my letter was not about the actual reading process. It was about the availability of reading material and the time to read it.
The Senior Cat spent a great deal of his extensive teaching career studying methods of teaching children to read. My mother did too. They were both involved in something called "The Reading Centre", an Education Department initiative which was an extremely valuable resource for teachers. The Reading Centre had a vast array of materials designed to help teachers teach reading. It was also associated with something called "The School Libraries Branch". It was designed to be a resource for all schools and all school librarians. I worked there for a while.
Both those things were disbanded by Labor governments intent on following the latest methods of instruction imported from the United States. No doubt it was all done with the best of intentions but it was a disaster for teachers. They lost two of their most valuable resources. Then school libraries became "resource centres" and the focus shifted to computers. Schools also began to "teach" more "social awareness".
Somewhere in all this the other important reading issue got lost. The amount of time a child had to read was cut drastically. With that cut came a belief that time spent reading had to be "useful". The child needed to be learning something. Non-fiction became much more important than fiction. Children needed to be taught about refugees, indigenous rights, global warming, climate change, cultural awareness and anything else people might be protesting about. Non-fiction needed to be about these things and the "science" surrounding them. Maths and science were a top priority and, if you were "lucky", you might get some Japanese or Chinese because they are "important".
There is "no time" for the sort of fiction I read as a child or even the sort of "social awareness" fiction my nephews and niece read. Fiction in school has to be about "issues" that are perceived as important. That way the child is not "wasting time".
Yes, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit but the idea is there and children I know are getting a message that reading for the sheer pleasure of reading is not important. Given the choice between reading a book or playing a game on the computer they will choose the latter because it requires less effort of imagination.
And it impacts in other ways too. My brother recently made something for his six year old grandson. He tried to get him interested in the process, the timber, the tools and how it was put together. His grandson showed no interest at all. He couldn't understand why you couldn't just go to a shop and buy the object involved. His grandson has not had the same opportunities to explore making things. At pre-school and at school everything he does is "guided" so it becomes a "learning" experience.
There are other ways of learning. Reading is not simply about being able to understand the marks on the page. It is imagination as well as knowledge which drives research and progress. Children need to read.