Monday, January 25, 2010

LEARN [sic] Act

Earlier in the 2009 - 2010 session of Congress, the Literacy Education for All, Results for the Nation (LEARN) Act was introduced in both the House and the Senate. This bill offers competitive grants to states and subgrants to local education agencies to implement comprehensive literacy plans.

Money for education? Comprehensive literacy plans? How can you go wrong?

I absolutely concur that literacy is vital and should be given much attention. However, I have to wonder about a program that creates generalized mandates and "comprehensive literacy plans" instead of leaving implementation in the hands of the people best equipped to judge the needs of students - namely, their teachers. I also find it difficult to imagine that Washington can create a plan that will work for all students.

As a holistic educator, I believe that each child is an individual - sorry to state the obvious! Furthermore, as an individual, each child has unique needs that cannot be adequately addressed through any one-size-fits-all curriculum. Literacy is more than decoding and vocabulary. It is about learning to interact with words, to understand their deeper meanings and think carefully about what a writer is trying to say even if she hasn't explicitly said it. It is about incorporating new ideas and gradually expanding your world-view through the things you read, hear, see and learn. This sort of intellectual development requires a certain degree of trust and a strong relationship between student and teacher, which is difficult to develop in most educational situations. The question really isn't whether or not children will learn to read, but will they learn to think about what they read, to form a meaningful relationship with words and ideas that will help them to be successful, informed individuals?

Perhaps comprehension is more difficult to measure than decoding and vocabulary skills. In our current corporate culture that is so focused on predictable and measurable results, people are reluctant to talk about the more obscure skills that don't lend themselves to testing, such as curiosity, critical thinking and creativity. Certainly, people are reluctant to grant money unless they can come away with a number that tells them whether or not their money was well-spent. However, we cannot educate our children based on our desire to measure their progress. We need to educate them to have the skills they will need to be knowledgeable and happy people who have a valuable contribution to make to the world. We continue to try to come up with different ideas that will make schools more successful at giving children the academic skills we think they need, but perhaps what we really need is nothing short of a paradigm shift.

Read another perspective here.

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