When my children were small, one of the very best educators I know, Marcus Bussey, was asked that quintessential parenting question: “How can I make my kids love reading?” His answer has stuck with me for over twenty years now.
This is how he answered (paraphrased):
I don’t know that you can make your child love reading – to make someone love something is an oxymoron.
For example, I can play soccer, I can even teach others how to play soccer, but I don’t love it and I probably never will. But we can do all we can so the child has the skills to read, and all we can so the child has good memory associations with reading and all we can to help the child find something that is interesting to them to read.
And then we let the child decide what he or she loves.
This article from Alfie Kohn is a reminder that in our desperation to ‘do all we can’ we sometimes go right ahead and kill any love of reading that may have been starting.
Kohn writes satirically about 7 ways to create nonreaders – and you’ll probably recognize all of them from your own schooling as well as your children’s schooling. The article is written to educators but it’s easy to see how it applies to parents too.
Here are the seven ways to create nonreaders:
Quantify their reading assignments (you know, read five pages every night).
Make them write reports.
Isolate them (don’t allow reading to be a collaborative effort).
Focus on skills (instead of on making meaning - something most humans love to do in one way or another).
Offer them incentives ($5 for every book you read – or an A+).
Prepare them for tests.
Restrict their choices.
Given that these are the very tools that schools, and sometimes parents, use to try to create readers it’s helpful that there’s a short section at the end of the article setting out some helpful ‘ways to think about how students can play a more active role in their own learning’.
I’ll leave you to go to the article for that but here’s a selection of my favourite short quotes from it (italics are ours):
Thus, the average … high school is an excellent preparation for adult life … assuming one lives in a totalitarian society.
… the fact is that kids learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.
… deeper learning and enthusiasm require us to let students generate possibilities rather than just choosing items from our menu; construction is more important than selection.
In fact, one might say that when autonomy and community are combined, they define a concept more often invoked than practiced in our society: democracy.
What matters is not what we teach; it’s what they learn…
Keeping hold of power – overtly for traditionalists, perhaps more subtly for those of us who think of ourselves as enlightened progressives – is a hell of a lot easier than giving it away.
Lots of great stuff to chew on here for parents and educators alike. And lots of great stuff to think about in relation to more than simply reading.