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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Science and History as Reading Subjects

I loved writing A History of US, and I’m being blown away by my ongoing foray into science., but in the name of full disclosure, I see myself as a reading teacher.
I have Information Age reading and thinking on my mind as I write and I see both history and science as the best way I know to approach the teaching of reading—analytical mind-blowing reading. The kind of reading our 21st century students need to master.
We constantly hear about jobs. Well, in recent decades U.S jobs in the technical, professional, and managerial categories have actually increased. So have bottom of the barrel jobs. It’s the blue collar and administrative support jobs that have fallen precipitously. Those occupations used to employ a lot of people who may or may not have made it through high school. Your marginal readers could, 30 years ago, find viable blue collar careers.
But today’s students have a very different choice—it’s a thinking job or McDonalds—the in-between category, the well-paid factory or industrial job has been outsourced or eliminated. To get a thinking job, you have to be able to think, which usually involves reading and writing—so those skills are taking on new urgency and changed priorities in our schools. Which is what Common Core is all about.
But I go way back as a teacher and as a journalist writing about education and so I’ve seen reading initiatives before, quite a few of them. And, with variations, they all seem to follow a similar course. With some effort, scores go up in the first three grades and then, usually beginning in fourth grade, they level out. This time, I hope, things may be different. Rather than a focus on the mechanics of reading, there’s an emphasis on what’s getting read. And nonfiction is recognized as a literary art form. Will this effort work? Not if we stick with commercial textbooks. And not if the testing process dominates and turns teachers into robotic test administrators.
If we want our children to read and think, we need to give them books worth reading and ideas to think about. Commercial textbooks have failed those criteria. Will Common Core actually bring books worth reading into classrooms? That’s to be seen. School materials are a big business, a very big business.
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