Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Child Miseducated

"A child miseducated is a child lost."
John F. Kennedy

We are losing our children.

We are losing them to the streets, to the celebs they choose as role models, and to the fights over the newest game systems.

Our children are losing the ability to read. It is a growing problem; growing as quickly as the numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD. Without the ability and willingness to read, our children are imprisoned within the small confines of their own worlds, worlds which are much too small. Small worlds breed small minds. Unless they are fortunate enough to do extensive traveling, these children who cannot or will not read a wide variety of stories and non-fiction will never see past the ends of their towns and realize there is a much wider viewpoint than the one they have been taught in their own existence.

The old argument against friends and role models having major influence because it is their parents who teach them values and important lessons is failing. Why? Because parents aren't paying attention. They aren't home, or they aren't available, or they don't realize the danger signs when they see them, or they don't know what's causing the danger. Of course this is not true of all parents. Many are home and available and aware, but there are a growing number who are not.

There are two major causes of concern of which all parents should be aware.

One: When phonics was replaced with whole language in school English classes, it took away a child's ability to learn how to read without memorizing every word in the English language. Phonics is the knowledge of how to sound out words we don't know. Most of our children can no longer do this. Without the ability to sound it out, they also don't have the ability to figure it out. They are not learning prefixes and suffixes and roots that help them know what a word is they have never seen. This is essential to proper language development. We are pushing our kids to read. There are programs developed to urge them to want to read. But we are making it difficult for them to do so, which ends up being highly frustrating and turning them into non-readers. We must bring phonics back to our schools.

Two: Instead of giving our children books and creative imaginative toys, we are giving them video games and fighting strangers in stores in order to get the newest, most expensive video systems. Children need imaginative play. It is imperative to their brain formation if they are to ever learn how to learn and how to think for themselves. How many of us in the over forty crowd spent time outside creating games where we 'acted' and made up stories to play with our friends? I would guess most of us did. We had Barbies and Kens that were for use instead of for collecting, and Legos and Lincoln Logs, and Fisher Price towns and Pickup Sticks. These may have seemed like merely childish games, but in reality, they were training our brains. Our children are not doing this. They are stuck behind game systems mastering each "next level" to brag to their friends about.

While the games themselves are not destroying our children (although since most are quite violent, there is an added issue of how it may numb them to violence), the amount of hours spent on these are actually forming their brain patterns that will affect how they think and act the rest of their lives. They learn to think in a way that makes the games easier for their brains to adjust to the quick-paced, immediate action and gratification necessary to become skilled and advance levels. The more they do this, the harder it is for their brains to adapt to real life; to reading, to learning patience, to sitting and focusing on a teacher, and to obeying orders we give them. We are losing them to their games.

Yes, it is that serious. ADHD is heavily on the rise, correlating with the rising stock of gaming systems and emphasis on having each newest game and the lessening numbers of kids participating in music and art and sports and other types of creative play. It is most serious for those younger than seven and for teens. Most parents don't realize that a teenager's brain is reforming itself at relatively the same rate as a young child's brain. It is at this point that what they are doing and learning is extremely important. At no time in the future will they be able to build new neural pathways that will either help or hinder them during the rest of their lives as easily or as pronounced as during this time. What teens spend time doing will directly affect what they will or can do as adults. It can be the difference between finding a successful career and getting lost in the cracks. It is that serious.

Try it. If your child is a full-time gamer who won't read and has low grades, take the games away for a month: completely. Make sure he is reading a variety of subjects and has time to come up with other ways to entertain himself. Have him learn music in some way. Rent an instrument. Go to an art museum. Buy a baseball bat and send him to invite friends for a game. Give his brain time to readjust to the real world. And pay attention to the difference. Then, write notes to your school board about reinstating phonics.

Our children are getting a double slam. Some of them can rise above the phonics issue if language comes easily for them or if they are not spending hours a week on games. If it doesn't and they do, they can't, and it will hold them back in everything, not only in school, but in the rest of their lives.

We cannot afford to lose our children. We cannot afford to raise a whole generation who knows only how to survive in video games. Try Pickup Sticks and Lincoln Logs this Christmas. Leave the computerized games on the store shelves. They may not understand, but they will benefit, and so will we all.


Chari-Dee said...

My son is 7, at Parent/Teacher Conf. this year, we were told he is an excellent reader but it takes him too long to figure out new words. He sounds them out. If he has trouble doing that he'll look at the pictures in the book and figure it out that way. They were upset because he didn't just recognize the word and say it. This bothered me quite a bit, but we practice phonics at home. That is how I want him to read. I don't want him to ask me a word over and over and me just tell him until her "remembers" that word. I absolutely agree with this post.

We are probably very strange parents. Our son and daughter(4) have been asking us for a few years now for a video game system. Last year for Christmas, instead of the PS2 he wanted, he got the V-Smile that is nothing but educational games but it uses Spiderman and other cartoon characters. He loves it, but would rather be outside playing. We are very outdoory people, we love to play with our kids outside and we want them to play outside. They have Lincoln Logs, Lego's, and all sorts of toys like that. Most of the time, they don't even ask for the hi-tech games, it is only when their friends talk about them.

For the first time our son likes books without pictures in them, he has read R.L. LaFevers Lowthar's Blade Trilogy and looks for books sans pictures now! The kids have a rather large library all on their own.

I am an avid reader though, and I remember hearing or reading somewhere that a great way to get your kids interested in reading, and seeing that it is important, was to let them see YOU read. Don't let them interupt you for at least 15 minutes while you are reading. They will see you devote that time to it, and they will begin to realize it must be something important. I can't say if my kids would be as big into books as they are if I weren't - my parents were never big readers, although they made sure us girls had books always, but I know them seeing me read has helped some.

Loved this post and couldn't agree with it more. Sorry I wrote a novel on this comment.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hello Cherry Tea :-)

They actually dropped the phonics instruction because there was argument that it was unfair to minorities who did not speak with the same intonations as the majority. The fallacy of this is amazing to me. It would only help them become better readers, as well, and I have a hard time seeing how anyone would think differently.

What actually happened after the change is that the minority children became even worse readers. Reading skills across the board dropped sharply. Researchers know this. The proof is there. Laura Bush has tried to push for changes back to the phonics system. Still, our schools are learning whole language. Why? It costs money to convert.

Yes, well, what is it costing us to have generation after generation of children who don't read well.

I could write novels on this issue myself, as it irritates me so.

Thank you for your comment!

LK Hunsaker said...
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