Feb 01, 2021
Reading is a key component of being a full participant in a democratic society. Unravelling the mystery of how children learn to read fueled my studies for my MA and Ph.D.
There is an urban myth that illiteracy rates at Grade 3 are used in the United States to plan for the number of prison beds needed in the future. While that’s an urban myth, it is a powerful image.
Research reports, “About 16% of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time – a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers” (ACEF, 2012).
This is also reflected in findings reported by the Conference Board of Canada. Their research reports state that even high school graduates are less likely to be financially successful than students graduating from post-secondary education. “Canadians with a university degree earned $165 for every $100 earned by Canadian high school graduates. Those with a college degree earned $110 for every $100 earned by high school graduates, and those who did not graduate from high school earned only $80 for every $100 earned by high school graduates” (March 2013).
Unless we are readers, it is almost impossible to access education and economic success; literacy makes a difference to success in life. Achieving or not achieving literacy and education isn’t simply an individual’s choice. It is a consequence of wealth or poverty, privilege or racism, access or lack of access to education, and more. Literacy results from true equity.
These days, technology may make it seem that reading is less important. After all, it seems that one can find anything one needs on the ‘net’. Google answers all our questions and YouTube shows us how to do everything from toilet training to installing the latest technology gift. We voice our wishes and Alexa races to do our bidding.
And yet, we are coming to understand that underlying algorithms are developed by the individuals programming the technology who may or may not share the values of Canadian society – the values of a democratic society.
And the events of the past weeks have helped us to see the power of communication that has been fueled by the algorithms of technology.
We have evidence that what we read, listen to and think about matters.
What we say matters.
This past week and past months have made visible the ways we can end up being misinformed and misguided as a result of the technology we use (and that uses us to make money and more). As educators, we are called to help students become critical users, as well as critical consumers of information. That takes time.
Reading for understanding and truth, no matter the umbrella question, is like consuming a healthy diet with lots of fibre. Just as it is easier to eat something pre-prepared – after all, packaging promises are persuasive – it is easier to read someone else’s version, rather than going to the original sources.
It is the same with reading, viewing, and listening. We are what we consume. Consuming toxic ideas and misinformation tends to result in toxic actions.
As the access to information has expanded, so has the need for readers who know how to be and choose to take the time to be thoughtful, critical, and relentless in their search for understanding and truth.
Funding education and teaching how to learn, to read, to write, and to engage with others in the local and global community is essential if the foundation of democracy – democratic discourse – is going to be supported.
Once COVID begins to pass and new ways of being are normalized, there will likely be a huge push to boost the economy. In the past, this has been done at the expense of education budgets.
Yet, education funding is needed more now than ever if we are going to have a strong democracy. Students need to be critical consumers of what they read, listen to, and view. This takes time to learn; it isn’t a simple, quick lesson. It is the purpose of public education.
Let’s not forget what we’ve witnessed in these past days and months. The undereducated and excluded are more likely to be disenfranchised. And, the disenfranchised are more easily radicalized. We must fight for everyone to become independent, educated citizens who are able to fully participate in our democracy and enjoy the benefits of a healthy economy and vibrant society.
Reading is key.
Take time to consider your ‘critical reading.’ Are you a user or are you being used? Do you consciously consume information?
We need to be deliberate. Using assessment in the service of learning is a key way to teach students to be critical thinkers who are relentless in their search for understanding.
Celebrate reading and being readers. Make time to teach a love of reading no matter what your role – parent, friend, or teacher.
Make time to engage in active professional learning. It is even more important in these times. You can review our amazing collection of online learning courses in the C2L Academy. You can access many of the courses as well as committed educators when you join our C2L Insider members site. 7 Action of Assessment For Learning: Accounts from Elementary Classrooms documents the many ways teachers teach students how to learn.
Being a lifelong learner and challenging our own views of the world is the only way to create a better world for all of us.
Join us in our work towards a healthy, vibrant democracy.
All my best wishes,
Anne and the connect2learning team
The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2012). Double Jeopardy: How Third Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation. Baltimore, MD: Author. Retrieved from www.aecf.org on January 11, 2021. [link: https://www.aecf.org/resources/double-jeopardy/]
Conference Board of Canada (March 2013). How Canada Performs. Retrieved from https://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Details/education.aspx on January 11, 2021.