Birthin’ and Readin’
Birthin’ and Readin’
by Jenny Hatch
These past few months I have been thinking about literacy.
For my book club last month I had the opportunity to choose the book, and decided to pick Why Johnny Can’t Read. This book is Rupert Fleischs fifty-year-old classic treatise on how to teach children to read phonetically. My book club is made up of a group of mostly young mothers with toddlers, and I introduced the book with the words, “I believe this is the most important non-fiction book that has ever been written.”
I was pleased during our discussion how seriously the mothers who make up the group took the message of this book. My hope for the evening was that those who attended would leave feeling empowered to teach their own little ones to read.
As our family has gone back and forth from homeschool to a variety of public school situations, I still feel strongly that the main reason one should teach their own is the reading issue. Here is a great article on the web that details the whole language/phonics fight.
In my associations with parents who are into primal mothering, I have noticed a real trend towards unschooling. My heart is with child led everything, but I believe strongly that the parents who delay teaching their child to read and write, will miss out on a wonderful opportunity. Maria Montessori believed and taught that children have a natural inclination to write around age four, and that it was best to teach a child to read by teaching him how to write. When parents delay teaching reading and writing until the child is seven or eight, or older, the child may never become a fluent reader. The child may learn how to read to a certain level in order to function in society, but to become the definition of literate that Rupert Fleisch defined – A person who unsupervised, goes into a library and checks out a two inch thick non-fiction book and reads it and retains most of what is read – to reach this level of literacy, early reading instruction is ideal, especially since it takes about three years for a beginner to move past the slow methodical beginning stage to reading for pleasure. Young children are “wired” to handle the frustration that is inherent in mastering this difficult skill. Older children feel the frustrations associated with reading on a much more intense level. I felt this same frustration to an amazing degree when I was learning Russian in College. To learn the alphabet and associated sounds of 33 characters, much less learn the words was frustrating, and by mid semester I had dropped this most difficult class, deciding instead to audit it, because I was so overwhelmed. Young children handle these frustrations much better than older children and adults.
These past three years of home school, I have taught my son Andrew (now six) to read and write and it has been a labor of love. We started when he was three; simple little writing exercises in his notebook. Around age five, he started being able to sound out and spell/write simple three letter words correctly. It takes about three years for a child to go from beginning reading to reading for pleasure. I have watched this take place with all four of my older children. When the day comes that the child is excitedly checking stacks of books out of the library and reading them for pleasure, I know that we have crossed the line from reading for practice to reading for pleasure.
When I think about the millions of dollars that are spent in remedial reading efforts, I just cringe thinking about the illiteracy that befuddles our society. I compare what happens in education in regards to reading, to what is happening in our hospitals in regards to birth. Our society has taken these two important facets of life – reading and birthing, and have made them into this expensive behemoth of “specialists”, “profiteering”, and “careerism”, built upon the ignorance and gullibility of innocent parents who really do believe doctor knows best, or teacher knows best.
Over the years, I have quietly observed the various people in my life: the college graduate who took my childbirth class who had not even told her husband she was functionally illiterate, but shared it with me after I asked her to read out loud in class. She informed me that she would not be able to return to my class if I asked her to read again. She sent me a beautiful thank you note, written with exquisite penmanship after the birth of her child. No one would guess this articulate and beautiful woman was not able to read at a literate level. She was the first of two women who took my class that I realized could not read. It made me wonder if one of the main reasons those hospital childbirth classes are always so stacked with couples is because you basically just show up. No required reading, no homework. Just learn how to say yes to the doctor and nurses and feed your baby formula and you have done your job as a parent.
Over the years I would offer to loan great childbirth books to various friends and some would get a look of terror in their eyes and say “no thanks”, other’s would respond by saying, “I hate reading”. Were these some of the millions who Rupert Fleisch identifies in his second book, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read? He claims that 80% of America is functionally illiterate if one goes by the literacy definition of being able to read a large non-fiction book. A friend told me that her husband would get so mad at her every time she read a book, that she felt like she had to hide it from him. Once in a fit of frustrated rage he tore one of her books in two and threw them across the room. Bottled up rage from never being taught to read properly??? I think so. How can the mothers and fathers of tomorrow read the great books, articles, and essays on childbirth and parenting if they are functionally illiterate? The Medical Profession feeds off this problem. Those of us who have apostatized from the church of modern medicine have largely done so once we were educated and empowered by the words we read.
Two important/crucial aspects of life – teaching mother’s how to birth and children how to read, have become a blight on our society simply because they have been twisted and warped into some mysterious nothing.
I am pleased that first lady Laura Bush is a Librarian and understands the whole language farce. She and the president are articulately promoting phonics first at the national level. We will have a revolution in this country when we fix the illiteracy problem. Until then, Mommas, teach your own, teach them when they are little and excited and are naturally enthused. I am now teaching my six month old his letters, and will start teaching him the music keyboard and basic arithmetic at the same time I teach him how to read. The well-educated mind begins with gentle birth/breastfeeding/nutrition. Then gentle instruction in the mechanics of how we communicate lie the foundation for deep and profound intelligence. Math and music taught in conjunction with language and writing has an amazing impact on the ability of the mind to think clearly and logically. Systematic education in the languages of reading, math, and music enable the child to feel confident they can master any other language whether it be the language of another culture, computers, or any other form of communication.
Many young mother’s I know, overwhelmed by life and busy with babies and toddlers have said to me that they plan to send their children to school for the early grades and then if a problem develops, they will pull them out and homeschool. Just six months of whole language curriculum can screw up a child enough that years of remediation will be required, and many will never catch up. Please momma, take the time to read Fleisch, understand the issue, and take the time to teach your own. Don’t send your child to school until they are reading for pleasure. You can do it!