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Reading murder mystery

Who's killing our kids' love of reading? Readicide's Kelly Gallagher investigates what’s behind this educational crime and how to revive a child’s passion for the written word.

By Leslie Crawford

Call it an educational injustice – one too many parents have seen befall their own children. One day your 5-year-old is pleading that you read, “Just one more story!” A few years later, your once-upon-a-time book lover has been replaced by a child who utters this blasphemy: “I hate reading!”

These kids are victims, claims Kelly Gallagher, of “readicide,” a senseless crime against the humanities in which well-meaning educational practices suck the pleasure out of one of life’s great joys and an essential building block to academic success.

Gallagher, who has been teaching high school English in Anaheim, California school for 28 years, reveals how parents and schools can prevent kids from falling prey to readicide, the dangers of “word poverty,” and the transformative benefits of “stupid reading.”

Readicide is a catchy title for a book, but are things really so grave as to suggest that society – and schools in particular – are destroying this generation’s love of reading?

More than ever, there are forces out there that are attempting to take kids away from reading. Some of those forces – which I argue in some of my books are well-intentioned – can play a part in creating kids who don't like to read and some of the practices in schools contribute to it.

How are schools implicated in killing kids’ love of reading?

Schools have become so test-results driven, they’ve lost focus on developing lifelong readers and have instead used all their focus to create test takers. I think that schools, in the shadow of all the testing pressures, have lost their way when it comes to the idea of recreational reading and developing lifelong readers. I’m not necessarily impressed with schools that radically raise their test scores. In some ways, that's almost a red flag, because the wrong message might be given to kids in terms of reading. I’m a strong proponent of teaching kids to read academically, but if that's the only reading they’re doing, they’re going to burn-out. My own two daughters, they were on the academic track, but the schools were so test-driven, the schools came pretty darn close to killing their love of reading.

I’m assuming you were able to preserve it for them?

Absolutely I did. The earlier you start, the easier it is. Reading is intrinsically enjoyable. As soon as my daughters were able to sit up – when they were six months old – I read to them and I read to them through middle school until they wouldn’t listen anymore. If my kids misbehaved the punishment was: “You don't get to read tonight.” That framed it as a valuable activity. But parents have to be careful not to make it a punishment this way: “You’re not going out until you read at least an hour.” I would say to my girls, “You can watch TV, but let’s get the reading done first.”

Next page: the Saturday night solution to lure them from the glowing screen.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

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