Wednesday, 2 May 2018

"Long letter in the paper

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. 

1 comment:

Jodiebodie said...

I haven't read the letter in the paper (because I cannot afford subscriptions - newspapers and periodicals are luxury items in my budget) but I can understand the perspective however let me assure you that there are many young people of my school-aged daughter's acquaintance who love books and reading, including my daughter who is currently fantasising about the big bookcase she wants to own one day and is making lists of all the books that will fill it.

There is a generation of young people who are discovering the joy of physical books - the tactile experience of a book in hand, the smell of the paper and ink, the appreciation of cover art and presentation, including binding, and they actively seek out good quality hard cover versions wherever possible so that their books will last.

As for computer gaming, please don't be too quick to dismiss the entire activity out of hand. Like books, which vary from high quality literature with beautiful language to low level publications with slipshod editing, computer games vary in style and quality also.

We live in an age of 'media convergence' where print and screen are no longer mutually exclusive. There is an entire genre of popular computer games which overlap the domains of print, interactive action and visual arts.

Games are often based on stories with all of the usual writing conventions of character and plot development - writers are crucial members of game production teams together with visual artists as well as programmers. "Cut scenes" are common - movie scenes of the plot according to the progress and decisions of the game player. During play and often during the cut scenes the player will have the text of the story on screen. Writers are integral in the design process.

Not all games are "shoot 'em ups" or "racing" or violent "war" games. There are mysteries to be solved, puzzles and riddles to interpret and much intellectual interaction between the game and player. The artwork in many of these games is of very high quality and there is one game called "Journey" where experts have debated on whether it is a 'game' or a 'piece of art' because of the evocative graphics and music. (I think the score was nominated for an award.)

For some children, video is a good medium for developing reading skills either through on-screen text in games or the facility of automatic captions on video players. Like comic formats, it can be an important 'foot-in-the-door' to confidence with other print formats.

All this is to say that, despite the popularity of computer gaming, you will still find youngsters interacting and accessing good quality literature and developing high level reading and comprehension skills.

My reference for this is my three offspring - besides a school-ager with a bookcase fantasy, another is a computer programmer and game developer (who also has an insatiable appetite for reading and learning); and the third loves reading for pleasure so much that she is studying university level English. The big problem is how to find time to read everything they want to read besides everything they NEED to read!

I think the 'kids' have the message, it's just the busy parents of the very young that we need to sort out!