Stop Learning To Read!
Anyone remember this lady?
Former State Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi, who served from 2011 to 2015 before being defeated by Joy Hofmeister in the Republican primaries. Ah, those were the days! Barresi hated us all with a passion. It was weird.
What was that cute thing she loved to say so much...?
It's right on the tip of my tongue... Maybe this will help:
Wait - I remember. Here it is...
No, dammit - that's not it. Oh well, it will come to me.
Ha! That Barresi was a card! That "reading to learn" bit always cracks me up.
The reason I bring this up is not to go after Barresi after all these years for nostalgic kicks, or because I have so many of these clips edited and saved but nothing to do with them now that she's gone. I'm FAR too artistically developed and pithily legit at this stage to give in to such vulgar urges. It would be tacky.
Unless, of course, something ELSE brought up the issues for which she's best remembered. Then... THEN I can finally reuse the darn clips!
Reading IS good and 3rd grade CAN be tough. I've been thinking about Barresi recently as discussions of Oklahoma's 3rd Grade Reading Test and the associated retention policies have begun anew. If you're looking for a wonderfully concise, yet oh-so-word-up-truth-yo argument for ditching mandatory retention altogether, you might start with this piece by Rob Miller on A View From The Edge. He's... *sniff*... he's kind of my hero.
It's not about lowering standards or coddling those dumb little kids who need to suck it up and READ TO LEARN, DAMMIT! It's just that sometimes our thirst for "accountability" and "standards" outstrips our ability to demonstrate that anything we're proposing actually works. We end up making policy not because it improves anything, but just so we feel like we're cracking down on teachers and whiny 8-year olds:
No more letting this lazy, no-good eight-year-olds milk the system! Those little $#%&ers are going to READ on OUR schedule, or there will be CONSEQUENCES:
Reading IS important. How and why we read changes as we develop, or with circumstances. And yeah, there are even strategies and methods to help different kinds of kids improve and enjoy reading as they grow.
But the suggestion that on some state-mandated date - presumably around July 1st between a child's 3rd & 4th grade years - they hit a cold, hard stop on that "learning to read" stuff. No more of that, Junior! You're almost in 4th grade, and that's no place for more learning to read! You think middle schoolers are still learning to read?! You think high schoolers are still LEARNING TO READ?!
Of course not! Don't be stupid! Starting on August 14th, you'll be reading to learn - period. Because THAT'S what will justify these weird policies we've passed and THAT will create an atmosphere of accountability towards kids too young to defend themselves or understand that it's not actually about them to begin with. *maniacal chuckle*
So we're going to hold you back, despite there being almost NO evidence that fixes anything most of the time. Oh sure, between your parents and teacher they could probably figure out if that's the best solution for you, but that sounds SO "low expectations" and "power-hungry teachers union." Far better to leave it up to 150 strangers halfway across the state who need to look tough on education to appease their venomous constituents - very successful folks who, by the way, are DEFINITELY NOT still learning to read! It's not clear most of them are still learning anything at all.
If you don't read well, you'll probably drop out of school and go on welfare before ending up in jail. Guess you shoulda gotten Hooked on Phonics so you wouldn't have ended up hooked on meth, huh?
Thank god that correlation is always causation, otherwise we'd have to wonder if things like reading ability and incarceration rates are actually connected through some third factor like, say... poverty, or parents' education levels, or the availability of medical care and mental health services growing up. But no - easier just to blame one for the other directly. People who own more pairs of shoes tend to be more physically fit, therefore we should require every child to own at least 12 pairs so that they'll live longer, healthier lives - stuff like that.
Besides, you can cure learning disabilities by cracking down on 8-year olds. What a relief! Makes you wonder instead of curing people, Jesus actually just went around whispering to the lame, "I know you're just lazy, so get your *** up before I 'religious freedom' you straight into that wall over there."
Ah, Janet - she sure as heck made life easy for bloggers, I'll tell you that. Joy isn't half this entertaining. She just keeps trying to help kids learn and give teachers hope. Boooorrriiing.
What's odd is that I think Barresi sometimes meant what she was saying... that she periodically believed herself. I was particularly struck by a personal story she told about her own son's struggles in elementary school:
You think you know where this is going, right? What a mistake it was to allow "social promotion" of her own child - how he would end up dropping out and going on welfare before ending up in jail? How she wishes they'd held him back over and over and over and over until he realized they meant business and gave in?
But she throws in a twist - that thanks to unbelievable luck (probably divine intervention), they somehow got a GOOD teacher who used this radical new system called "give him a little extra help and encouragement" - and WHOAH!!
The moral of the story is that many times with enough support students catch up and start reading "on level" at some point around Middle School. Therefore, logically, we should hold them back indefinitely in 3rd grade because we DIDN'T do that with my kid and it all worked out just fine.
For the record, that's the quality of reasoning that's been running Oklahoma for years now, and not just in education. You should hear this amazing bit they do about tax cuts stimulating the economy - it's classic!
Our elected leaders don't seem to make many connections between rhetoric and real life. Like Janet, they know what sounds good when they say it, and feel no particular compunction about their lexicons remaining completely untethered to reality.
But we don't teach fluffy, theoretical kids or work in a miasmic unicorn rainbow stream. Words matter, and policies do things. Reality is still a factor - no matter how desperately Baghdad Bob, Sean Spicer, Kyle Loveless, or James Lankford wish otherwise. They'll keep spouting the rhetoric assigned them by their socio-economic overlords and preternatural paradigms, and that's fine - it's what they do. But the rest of us will keep throwing a fit every time calling them out on it.
None of us mind disagreement over policy. That's not why we seem pissy so much of the time. What we're fighting for is clarity. If their policies are so good, they shouldn't have to obfuscate them with all that gilding and glitter. If they're so well-intentioned, why isn't the truth sufficient to set their ideologies free?
Or maybe they believe what they say and just don't make the leap to application. Maybe they need to learn to read their own rhetoric more carefully before they run with it.
Too bad that's impossible after 3rd grade. Can we send them back?