Adults trained and hired to lead children into mastery of knowledge and skills that the larger community feel are important take the business of schooling very seriously. Chief among the goals we have for students inarguably is Teaching Children to Read. Strangely enough, this most critical phrase is used with several meanings.
Teaching Children to Read could mean being able to say all of the words on each page correctly. This is lovely, though every mature reader I know (myself included) encounters words that they don’t immediately recognize or, having never heard spoken, leave them with only a guess at the correct pronunciation. This form of Teaching Children to Read might more accurately be called Teaching Children to Say. Successful students in this kind of program may grow to be actual readers, but clearly that will have to happen on their own time.
Teaching Children to Read also could mean that children learn to connect with text and images and make personal sense of the creations of authors and illustrators. This second meaning absolutely is reading, but it leaves the very real possibility of developing capable readers who actually never do it by choice.
Consider children who take years of violin lessons yet haven’t picked up their violins in months or years. They can do it, but never choose to, and cannot in any seriousness be called violinists or musicians. This is a sad commentary on the adequacy of music instruction or choice of instrument. What a waste of time and energy and of a lovely instrument! Is there a musical future for such instrumental casualties?
What would it take to get children to be joyful and regular players of violins, or, and back to my point, to be eager readers of books.
What’s missing in these partial efforts to create violinists and readers? What essential ingredient do the above ideas about Teaching Children to Read omit?
Ultimately Teaching Children to Read should mean that they exit formal schooling, and never stop reading, continuing to learn to BECOME readers—to continue life comfortably shaping the act of reading to be part of their lives, and to develop a fully functioning natural inquiry as a daily, joyful engagement.
The more we choose to live our lives as violinists, or as readers, the better we continue to get. Thus, it is possible that the fullness of Teaching Children to Read is actually best understood as a subset of Teaching Children to Inquire, to learn to articulate their curiosities and to express them in effectively pursuing answers to our own questions.
Such reading allows us to experience other times, capabilities, places, people and events, NOT when we are assigned to by well-meaning educators, but when throughout life we are each ready to know about such things. It is, therefore possible, that Teaching Children to Read is fully taught as a powerful contributor in lifelong personal discovery and growth.
Sadly, such teaching is not widely taught to educators, nor practiced.