i am constantly being upbraided by my son’s teacher for not filling in his reading book. My son just turned 8 and he has already independently read all the Harry Potters (including the play, as he insists on pointing out), the Percy Jacksons and multiple Diaries of a Wimpy Kid. My word, does that boy love a franchise, so like his parents [*theatrical sniff]. Because of this I have rather taken my eye off the ball when it comes to the school’s rather daffy policy to encourage reading at home.
I am expected to write a log of his reading so the teachers have evidence that the kids are reading at home; if his reading book isn’t filled in 3 times a week then he gets sent to the head teacher. This is preposterously unnecessary for a child who is hyper literate. The old line of ‘well it wouldn’t be fair if he didn’t follow the rules’ is used to perpetuate this unnecessary punishment. It’s doubly unnecessary, as it’s not even him who is getting things wrong - it’s me and his father, We should be the ones getting sent to the head, not the child with minimal control over his daily routine. I doubt the head really wants to go toe to toe with a parent about this kind of nonsense though. Is it really ‘the fair thing’ to do? After long and careful consideration I have decided this whole argument is bollocks.
Nothing in life is fair - my family is lucky that it is usually unfair in our favour. My kids have university educated parents and house bursting at the seams with books, if the boy wants to read he only has to stretch an arm to touch a book. Not everyone has the time or space or inclination to facilitate this kind of interest. If a child’s parents found reading difficult at school and opening a book brings memories of humiliation or stress or mind numbing boredom and they are missing their god-decreed three times a week target ,is punishing their child for their failure really going to change the attitude of anyone in that household? Is being forced to complete a task that is, quite frankly, pretty damn low on the list for most families really going to inspire them to try harder or is it going to confirm that reading is an activity that brings stress and shame? (Let’s be honest, not all families are the same and this approach may well work for some people in this situation but I doubt it will work for most).
There are myriad different methods to inspire enthusiasm for reading; competitions bore me rigid but the kids go nuts for a shiny sticker so why not try positive reinforcement rather than punishment? A sticker for the kid who can name four characters in their book, or who can sum up the plot in 140 characters or less (which also primes them to be expert twitter users when the time comes) or the one who can give two good reasons why they absolutely hated a book. Surely this is the kind of response to reading we should be inspiring, not box checking drudgery? I would happily sit down once a week and sign a sentence written by my kids on what they thought of their current text.
I think there needs to be more space for difference in schools; equal expectations of all students in the name of ‘fairness’ leads to a playing field that is very tilted in favour of those kids (and parents) with a certain set of skills. It is worth noting that these skills do not always translate into real world success, if that is your goal. I’m not sure it always leads to kindness either.
Wouldn’t it be better to tell kids that absolute equality is not a worthy goal and instead to teach them to accept that different people need different things. ‘Yes, I know little Billy in your class gets to use his fidget spinner and you don’t, but when he uses it it helps him to listen, when you use it you become an insufferable show off. You need different things.’ Surely teaching children to understand and accept difference within their world, within their classroom has far more value and real life application than a school trip to a place of worship (though they should definitely do that too!).
I can’t help but feel that life would be better for all of us if adapting for difference was embedded into our education. At the very least it may stop the snide remark in offices all around the country when someone needs a special chair because of their back - that sneaking sense that someone else is getting something for nothing. We all need different things at different times - sometimes you might need the help of those around you, for them to understand and adapt to help you, at other times that will be your job. Wouldn’t it be nice if schools made space for this to happen too.