JEM #4: Literacy Opens Doors

jorgenson education manifesto

We’re talking about what I think the education of a child requires. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

Jorgenson Education Manifesto

  1. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  2. Work hard as to the Lord.
  3. Outdoor time is good for physical, mental, and emotional health and development.
  4. Literacy will open nearly any door.

There are a lot of things that I will bend on when it comes to things being “my way” in education.

But phonics isn’t one of them.

Children must learn to read not by contextual guessing, looking at pictures, or memorizing sight words–they must learn the sounds that make up their written language.

I learned to read through phonics, and even if my pronunciation of a new, big word isn’t exactly right, I can at least attempt it.

A friend of mine told me a story about marveling at a girl in school who could sound out words. This friend had been taught by a memorization method and could hardly wrap her mind around being able to break words down by their parts.

New studies reveal that elementary teachers are given little training in how children develop reading skills–and that teaching through phonics can lead to great gains. Old school is new school once again.

But there’s more.

Literacy, at its most basic, means having the ability to read and write (and do math if you throw numeracy under the same umbrella).

However, a full understanding of “literacy” encompasses more than just being able to read or write words and sentences. This definition from the Canadian Education system (first solid definition in my initial search) gives a good overview:

Alberta Education defines literacy as the ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living.

Reading comprehension  is important. Remembering key details is important. Even knowing how to fill in a bubble sheet to answer those kinds of questions can be important. But I want more.

My children must grow in maturity from reading what a text says (grammar stage) to questioning why it says it (logic stage) to arguing their position on it (rhetoric stage). They must be able to go past what is being said to the author’s purpose in saying it–and how that fits with what they know.

There are many roads to literacy, but they are all paved with ample time spent with a variety of texts. Literature, science, math, manuals, poetry, biography, history, humor, news. A print-rich environment lays the foundation.

But books alone are just words on a page. It’s the exchange of ideas between and among people that matter, so it is the ongoing discussion of the printed word (or podcasts or movies or anything that conveys meaning) and the ideas contained therein that will build literacy.

So whether they’re at home or school, I still have an obligation to fill our home with words–written and spoken.

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