Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This summer I am working with kids in three different capacities and managing to use I.N.K. books as a teaching tool with all of them. My students currently range from age eight to eighteen and I am successfully using a mix of the same books with all of them. (More on this in September). It's interesting for me to revisit this post I wrote back in October when I first muddled my way to start using non fiction books in a classroom environment.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a group of Korean parents about the education system in America. The topic started to stray, as things tend to do, towards books and reading. I asked how many parents read to their children. No hands were raised.

I began pushing them harder on the importance of reading to the youngest children as often as possible. No one seemed very interested in my point of view. One father started explaining how he used WII games to relate to his children and encouraged them to explore their curiosity. He mentioned how he played guitar hero with his two children and now one of them was taking guitar lessons. Nice, but not really my point.

Fast forward a few weeks later. Someone brought in a Korean newspaper that listed the top 200 colleges in the world according to said paper. They were very intrigued that my daughter is currently attending their so-called number eight. “I would like advice on how my children can attend such a prestigious university,” the guitar hero-loving Dad said to me. “How can I prepare them for admission to this university?” he asked.

Hmm. We’ve already been over this, I thought to myself, smiling ever so politely. Didn’t I mention the importance of reading to your kids? What kinds of reading passages will you find on the all required standardized test including the SATs? Mostly nonfiction. What is the most important piece of writing a student will do before college? A 500 word non fiction piece about themselves commonly called the college essay.

Korean students have even more pressure to perform well because the entrance exam is the sole determining factor for college acceptance. There are too many students for too few spots and the competition can cause parents to push their children to start preparing for the exam in after school classes as early as elementary school. With a secure career totally dependent upon the kind of college a student attends, prestige takes a surprisingly prominent role in early childhood development.

There are plenty of practical reasons for children to read, especially nonfiction, if prestige is your ultimate goal. But phooey on prestige. What kind of goal is that for your children’s ultimate well being? Reading a vast assortment of books to your kids encourages in them a love of reading, gathering and synthesizing information, and exploring fantasy worlds and far away planets. They will then read about things that intrigue them and things they knew nothing about. In other words, reading early and often will encourage their own intellectual curiosity. They don’t have rankings although, if they did, that would be a list worth aiming for.

Update: Last week I connived a way to fit a favorite children's book into my lesson plan. One student asked if she could borrow it for a few days. Today she returned it, smiling, and said her son had really enjoyed it. Slow but sure, one convert at a time. I'll take it!