It's Summer - READ SOMETHING!

I have a 5-hour strategy to getting used to twitter coming soon. For now, I just finished reading the incredible book, The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin (@DorisKGoodwin) and had some thoughts on that.

As a teacher, I naturally have become an advocate of the importance of reading. There is the common quip that prisons use 3rd grade reading levels to predict the number of prison beds that will be needed in coming years. While the claim that specific numbers are used has pretty solidly been proven false, there is compelling evidence that students who are behind in reading proficiency are less likely to graduate high school. The exact rate can be debated, but the correlation almost certainly is real. Articles supporting this can be read here, here, here as well as an article with several telling statistics about reading levels here. If you're more of a visual learner, then this graph should tell you what you need to know: 
The better students are at reading in third grade, the more
likely they are to graduate.
So the data is there to prove that reading is important. That's not really what this post is about mostly because I'm not sure that anyone is arguing the opposite. There is no "Society Advocating for Lower Literacy" that needs to be defeated and disproved. Kids need to read more and they need to read more proficiently. That fact, I would guess, is nearly universally agreed upon among those in education. 

This post is a preview of my first book review! This is something that will hopefully happen more and can be worked into some class activities. 

I make an effort to talk to my students about books that I have read or am currently reading. Like other skills, modeling is an effective strategy. I keep a full bookshelf (and am ready to add a second soon) in my classroom and regularly lend books to students. Books really are incredible. I am a big fan of movies, music and art, but books take an effort that the other three do not. That effort results in a kind of a relationship between the reader and the book. 

I think this is probably why there is a such a satisfactory feeling the moment that you read the last word of the last sentence on the last page of a book. Whether it is a short work of fiction that is fun and quick or a longer, more academic read, it feels great to come to then end of the journey. A great professor of mine at William Jewell, Dr. Gary Armstrong, referred to his shelves full of books as "dear old friends" that had helped him through many times. 

At the time, I didn't get that statement from Dr. Armstrong. As I grow older, it starts to make more sense, especially as I come across students who can barely read with proficiency or hate reading completely. Each book you read is like another brick added to a strong building you create over the course of your life. 

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner made me dream. Solving mysteries, making things happen, being important - all these things flowed through my mind like a river. 

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers was the first book that made me think about the others in the world who might not look, speak or think like me, but whose looks, speech and thoughts held just as much importance to the world as mine. This was also my first favorite book. I read Fallen Angels more times than I remember, all 300 some pages over and over. 

In high school my fantastic English teacher, Kathy Chirpich, introduced us to Ender Wiggins and his moral struggle in Ender's Game long before it became a movie. In her class I also encountered the first book that, once I had started it, I knew I had no chance of finishing! The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas was an effort it perseverance that I will never forget. I did eventually finish The Count, and even ended up thinking it was an enjoyable read.

In college I started to study Middle Eastern politics. I encountered The Clash of Civilizations by the controversial Samuel P. Huntington, Bombing to Win by the fantastic author Robert Pape and many of the great philosophers - from Plato to Socrates; Kant to Mill. My thinking towards the world evolved from a feeling that we should all be equal to more supported thought that we must each actively and intentionally work for equality and justice. Story after story from world history convinced me that social equality is not a certain eventuality but rather a conscious choice. It was during my third year of college that I shifted my interest away from law school and towards education. That choice meant that it would be a full four years of evening and online classes after earning my first undergraduate degree that I would earn my teaching certificate.

Reading is not always the most enjoyable practice nor is it the easiest to teach. Nonetheless it could not be of more importance to learning about the world around us and growing collectively as a society. 

My wonderful Aunt Linda knows that I think this way and I think feels much the same, although we've never explicitly talked about it in these terms. She's made it a tradition to gift me some book that she thinks I would enjoy. Christmas 2012 saw The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin as the book of the year. It's a brick. 752 pages of dense, thoughtful, well-researched story telling over the beginning of the Progressive movement in America. 
A book review is in the works. Really, a book review probably isn't the right term. I don't want to review the book in the classic sense of providing some sort of critique. Discussion is more what the goal is here. I don't know where the long term goal is or if there even is one. I would love to collaborate with other educators out there and maybe start an online educators book club, so get in touch if that sounds interesting to you. 

For now, we'll just stick to the thought that reading is good and important and I've just finished a fantastic book. I'll be back soon with that discussion starter.

Until next time... 

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