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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 18, 2000
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Reading and Mutuality

  • Letters to the Editors, L.A.Times, Sunday, June 18, 2000, in Section B, Metro.

    • Ann Wexler of Westchester spoke of the frustration of the governor's reading program because it danges $5000 as a prize for reading, which is the wrong kind of incentive, and which rewards those who already were good readers and doesn't help those who have most difficulty with reading. It also doesn't reward at all those who come close, but don't win the prize, and the paper work and rigamarole are hardly worth the effort. Wexler says if the governor has $5000 he should give it to the districts for more effective use.

    This is a good example of the kind of adversarial reasoning that Fellman deplores in Rambo and the Dalai Lama. Prof. Jeff McQuinlan of Arizona State University at Tempe, added that in his review of the literature he has found that "there are no studies to support reading incentives." Judy Nelson of La Verne adds that "the wrong message is given to children when we pay them to do something that is so good for them. Enjoying what they are reading is the reward."

    Viewing the enjoyment of the reading itself as the primary reward, we are missing an important aspect of self esteem. We are not alone. We are both unique individuals and part of a community. We need to recognize ourselves, but we need also the recognition of the community of which we are a part. In his Proclamation on Fathers Day 2000, President Clinton spoke of the importance of the role of fathers in child rearing, particularly their "emotional support." And in his weekly radio speech (L.A. Times, Sunday, June 18, 2000, p. A25), Clinton said that "one study showed the chances of of a child getting mostly A's in school increased more than 40% in two-parent families where the father was highly involved."

    First, we are beginning to recognize the importance of fair acknowledgement and support for learning, instead of punishment for not learning. And second, the studies showing this are also confirming the loss of meaning to competitive grades. The President of the United States has just suggested that our goal is for all children to get A's. How is that possible if A's are only to be given for "exceptional" performance. When the President announces that parental involvement can lead to a child getting A's that suggests that A's are within the capability of all children. They cannot simultaneously serve to rank children as to their talent and intelligence. There are some fundamental contradictions in our growing tendency to use double speak in the area of grades. They cannot serve both to certify competence on a nationally normed competence standard which cuts across all educational institutions, and to reflect learning increments which take into account the social context of that learning. If competence and national standards are to control, then no matter how much parents work with some children, they will not be able to keep up with their more talented peers. No one is suggesting that if fathers would just throw basketballs with their children they could all be a Michael Jordan. That doesn't mean that it wouldn't be better for the children, and for our communities if the fathers played ball with their children more often. It just means that difference is real, and should be understood and appreciated in a community based on mutuality.

    Along with the self satisfaction with the reading itself, we need the recognition and support that enhance that self satisfaction and that gives us a sense of success within the community to which we belong. To that end I am dismayed by the amount of emphasis on "If the parent would just . . . somehow the dysfunctional educational system would work just fine." The mother should have prevented the shooting of a six-year-old girl by her six-year-old son. That assumes that the mother had the talent, the presence of mind, and the fortitude to perservere against all odds in a community riddled by social distress. Not a plausible assumption. The community needs to take back its responsibility for all its children, including the mother, whom so many were willing to blame. The mother may not be able to imagine the mothering she never received herself. Affixing blame is not the best approach to problem solving. It's not even one of the viable approaches we teach. Instead we need to shore up the infrastructure to provide the support that parents we failed earlier cannot now provide to their children. How can a father who never learned to read comfortably teach his child to read? Why not let him teach his child to play ball, and charge some other part of the infrastructure with teaching the child to read, and with making sure the child develops pride over the reading? It is irresponsible to demonize the parents who were never given access for their children's present lack of access.

    . . .

    White House Publications



    The Break up of MicroSoft

    Robert Reich's article on the break up. Notes will go up soon, but article linked here for your convenience. jeanne, June 18, 2000.