An article in this Monday’s Globe & Mail about the (lack of) love of reading has got me thinking. Kate Hammer writes that
A new report released Monday by education advocacy group People for Education finds that while literacy and standardized test scores have climbed over the past decade, the number of students who report that they like to read has dropped, from 76 per cent of Grade 3 students in 1999 to 50 per cent in 2011.
A 26% drop in students who like to read is enormous. Hammer cites three possible reasons for the drop:
reading at home may have come to feel like an extension of schoolwork for some students, who aren’t being taught to read for pleasure.
Teachers may be to blame for not picking out engaging books for students, and parents can also help by reading at home with their children.
The report also points to other factors, including declining numbers of teacher librarians in schools – only 56 per cent of Ontario schools have a teacher librarian now, compared to 76 per cent in 1999 – and the rise of new distractive technologies, including social media.
If I squint, I can see why the first two might be to blame, but I don’t really see how in the span of 12 years, the school system can have managed to turn reading into unpleasant work or that teachers are somehow now less likely to recommend good books.
No, my guess is that it’s the cuts to librarians that’s to blame. They are considered a frill, non-essential. I know it’s not sound math, but there must be a correlation between a 20% drop in teacher librarians over the same time span as the 26% drop in students who report that they like reading. I don’t have to squint to see a link there.
It is a librarian’s job to be enthusiastic about books, to connect a child and the book he or she is meant to meet. It’s not just about putting a warm body in the room so that an adult can scan the barcode. Librarians know their shelves, they know their students and they know how to match one to the other. Without that professional enthusiasm, of course there will be a drop in the number of students finding the books that spark, kindle and keep alive a love of reading.
It wasn’t until reading this article that I realized that along with head chef and bottle washer, one of my jobs as mother has been librarian. I read a lot about children’s books. I read children’s librarians’ websites and periodicals, I keep up with new publications, and I absolutely adore reading about other readers’ favourite childhood classics. I am discovering many of them for the first time myself, and my enthusiasm for the job is boundless. I have, in effect, professionalized my own love of reading as I cultivate it in my children.
I am almost certain that my kids would answer yes on a survey that asked them if they like to read. (I have enough humility and experience to know that our children will sometimes surprise us with answers we do not expect.) It’s because I have worked hard to match them with the right books, but as Roger Sutton points out in A Family of Readers, as they get older our children need independence in their choice of reading material:
Feel free to share, but give your kid plenty of room and privacy. The current vogue for book clubs might lead one to think that the primary goal of reading is to have something to talk about with your friends. While books do provide a durable kind of social glue, you might find that your child is not especially interested in sticking to you. He or she will probably be more interested in the pursuit or discovery of like-minded souls, both within the pages of books and in like-minded fellows who see the brilliance, for example, of Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett or Francesca Lia Block. Should your child invite you in, by all means accept, but don’t make the first move. Let your kid lead. Books require–and provide–privacy and independence.
My concern is, when they throw off my guidance in the natural move to reading independence, I want someone to be there to keep my boys’ love of reading alive by continuing to find them books that keep them up for “Please, just one more page.” If schools keep cutting library staff, that someone will be harder to find.
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