The recent release of the new Harry Potter book brings to mind some of the extremely strange things that people under the influence of the prevailing educational
cult theory are wont to believe. One of the reasons many adults praise Harry Potter is that it gets children reading:
“It's wonderful to see kids so interested in reading,” said Susan Polk, manager of the bookstore. “It's a 750 page book and they still want it that much. That's exciting!”
What is good about Harry Potter is not that it gets children reading, but that it is a jolly good read. Like many parents and teachers, Ms Polk apparently thinks that:
- there is something inherently good in early reading that is independent of the early reader's wish to read
- reading is not generally something that people of sound mind would choose to do for their own interest and pleasure
- we need to get children reading
- we should seek out books that “get children reading“ and ensure that children come into contact with said books
- children need to be made to learn to read
- children must read, and if they are not interested, they must be pressured to do so, for example, by threats, bribery, positive reinforcement, or by reducing their choices to two, where one of them is reading and the other is something unpleasant such as cleaning the toilet.
TCS parents reject all these ideas and don't think in terms of getting children reading at all. Instead, they take the view that getting children reading is a manipulative aim. “So what?”, you might ask. “Isn't it manipulating them into something good?” Not really. Even if it ‘works’, it is also manipulating them into the attitude that reading is something tedious and useless and difficult and painful now, even though it will help them in their distant future lives. And therefore, even in the rarely-realised case of a perfectly docile child, the resulting conflict in the child's mind, with the child preferring to do or think about X, but also wanting the conflicting end of satisfying the parent, is quite likely to be counterproductive. How do you feel when you sense that someone is leaning on you to do something? The natural reaction is to do the opposite. Even if it is something you would have wanted to do, being pressured to do it can cause you never to go down that path, or to lose any such desire that you already have. It is likely that at least a proportion of people who can read, but come out in a cold sweat at the suggestion that they might like to read a book, react like that precisely because they originally learned to read under pressure.
Compare that sort of tragedy, brought about by the cult of early reading, with the description in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, of how the young slaves used to go secretly to reading lessons at night, after being worked to exhaustion all day, and despite the risk of being savagely beaten for breaking the law: for it was illegal for a slave to learn to read, and illegal to teach a slave to read. What does it take to extinguish such a desire? Could there be a greater irony than the presence of two youngsters on the same plantation, one black and one white, the white one being beaten for not learning to read and the black one being beaten for learning?
It is understandable to fear that your children might fail ever to learn to read and thus have a terrible life (and it would be all your fault – oh the guilt – we so want the best for our children). But instead of fearing the worst, question your premise that learning to read is difficult and unpleasant. It isn't! Assuming that they have access to a willing helper, children learn to read quite willingly when they have a genuine reason of their own to do so, such as wanting to play certain video games, or wanting to read the magazine Granny brought them. In dark moments when you fear the worst, remember the slaves wanting so much to learn to read that they risked death to do so. Remember the natural enthusiasm children have for Harry Potter books, and remind yourself that it won't help to ‘encourage’ [euphemism for “pressure”] your children to read: it is more likely to put them off reading for life.
An article about the process of learning to read will be put up on the TCS web site soon. Look out for it!