Our little high school is purging old texts from its collection, and teachers were invited to come and select those books they wanted to keep in their classrooms, as well as just to take some for pleasure reading – yes, I do read for pleasure, and no, it isn’t porn, unless you count cheesy romances.
As I was sorting through the 400 or so volumes, I came upon a copy of Rascal, by Sterling North. It is a novel. About a boy and his pet raccoon. For tweens and high school youth. In the discard pile. I was flabbergasted. This novel was so popular they made a movie out of it. Why would such a book be in the throwaway pile, especially as it was certainly not yet worn out?? Flummoxed, I open the book at random and started reading a page – and then I completely understood.
With a few rare exceptions, our current high school students cannot comfortably read this book anymore. Its language, diction and reading level are above their capacity. As I put Rascal into my keep pile and sorted through more books, I found my suspicion confirmed by book after book that I opened to peruse, chock full of language our students cannot read and comprehend.
As we strive to keep every student in school, to educate every child, what we have done is created a couple of generations of functional illiterates. Yes, fewer of our modern day students are dropping out, and more are earning high school diplomas….but what does that diploma signify these days? We are slowing down instruction, shallowing content, and accommodating students of lower achievement at the expense of the brightest students, who get to sit in class just as long as the slowest learner in their class, because there are few options to accelerate learning if you are capable of acceleration. Lessons are tailored for the midrange – those who test in the ‘acceptable’ range, so the school does not lose face or funds.
One of my high school students (and I do not teach English, although I am certified to teach it) has a bright mind, who writes as though he is a Special Education middle schooler. His spelling is hit or miss (mostly miss) and his grammar and mechanics are atrocious. I referred him for additional help (since English is not one of the curriculum standards for my current courses) because he is bright enough to go to college, and he takes AP level courses. No dice – he tests well enough on the multiple choice, school and state mandated exams that no one will give him help during the school day to address his weaknesses in mastering his own language. He does not qualify for help. The best I can do is offer to tutor him after school, for free, if he wants to. Yeah, right.
He will get into college, because the SAT is a multiple choice test. But I fear he will not be able to stay there, because college is writing papers. *sigh*
The more days that pass, the more I appreciate the fact that I am close to retirement age.