Books, Bricks, and Politics
I recently caught up with a dear colleague. When I asked her what she saw as she worked closely with our teachers and teacher leaders, her immediate answer was “politics”.
The concept that everything is political started with Aristotle and is consistently restated today. Although I avoid them, I cannot deny that what I eat, what I wear, what I read (or don’t read) is a political act. Looking at the news or even local school board elections remind us how polarizing today’s environment is and how the inertia of our society calls for us to pick one side or the other. My desire for universality led me to wonder about concepts that are less political and valued by all. Literacy for everyone came to mind. The ability to read, write, think, listen, and speak are foundational skills people need to successfully live and participate in our lives and communities. The assertion that all children (and adults) have strong literacy skills is something we can all agree on. We call that a core belief.
Core beliefs can only be realized when our practices align with and support the initial conviction. Donalyn Miller shares that time, access, and choice are bricks with which to build a solid foundation. I am an excellent cook. I am masterful because I have an interest in food and I have cooked every day for over 30 years. In contrast, I am unlikely to become a great tennis player if I only watch it on TV. Children must have time to read things they enjoy or are interested in each day. If you are telling yourself, “Of course! That’s a given!” I challenge you to ask any child age 4-19 to track how much they read each day and how much they enjoy what they read. The data may surprise you.
To read each day, you have to have access to text. Access means that you can easily get your hands on something to read. In the positive column, we have a ton of portable digital content via phones and iPads or laptops. A quick survey of your friends and family about where and how they read, demonstrate we all have preferences. I like to read digitally but if it is non-fiction, I will want a paper book I can mark up. Recent research tells us that children need access to both digital and print. As they age, children should drive which they use for their specific purposes. Time and access are bricks that build mastery, choice excites and accelerates literacy.
Imagine you walk into a bookstore where they scan your brain and then directed you to graduate-level books because that is the level you read at. No magazines, cookbooks, or mysteries! Choice is the third brick in that solid wall of practice we should all agree on. I was so fortunate as a child because I not only had access to books, I had parents who encouraged us to read about the things we were interested in which amplified the time I was allowed to read. Visiting areas in which literacy levels are at their lowest inside and outside of schools, you see that there is little access to books, there is no choice about what to read, and time is spent on drills and isolated practice of skills-effectively killing a love of reading. Time, access, and choice in the construction of literacy is a political act we can all support.