[Susan notes: Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College, equates intensive reading instruction with a violinist's being forced to play nothing but "scales, scales, scales."]
Published in New York Times
Re "Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math" (front page, March 26):
The curriculum in failing schools is often narrowed not to two subjects but one: strategies.
Topics and reading materials are selected not for their inherent value, but for their usefulness in illustrating a strategy that might come into play on a standardized test.
Students practice strategies all day long, then stay after school and attend Saturday school to learn still more strategies.
Of course strategies are important. But when they take precedence over compelling material, you end up with a closet full of clanging tools.
Conversely, if priority is placed on rich material and inquiry, then the strategies are more likely to come naturally.
There is no reason reading cannot embrace music, art, science, history and more. There is no valid argument that the study of a foreign language would interfere with a student's reading progress.
Let us come to our senses and give these kids an education.
The writer teaches English as a second language in a New York City public school.
To the Editor:
"Narrowing the curriculum" by eliminating history and science to afford more time for math and reading reflects the tunnel vision of American education.
Reading, writing and math are integral components of the natural and social sciences. We, and our children, would be far wiser with a curriculum that integrates basic skills across a rich and diverse curriculum.
The writer is an assistant professor of school psychology at Texas State University, San Marcos.
To the Editor:
As a longtime reading educator, I share the concern expressed in your article that reading and math are shortchanging other subjects. This development is as bad for reading as it is for science and social studies.
Without strong knowledge about the big ideas that come from solid instruction in the sciences, arts and humanities, students' reading (and writing) will ultimately suffer.
Reading and writing must always be about something, and the something comes from subject-matter pedagogy — not from more practicing of reading "skills."
Reading skills are important, but without knowledge, they are pretty useless. We'd all be better off if schools taught reading as a "tool" to support learning those big ideas found in subject-matter instruction.
It's time to transform reading instruction from its current role as the curricular "bully" in our schools into a role it is better suited to play — being a curricular "buddy"!
P. David Pearson
The writer is professor and dean of the Graduate School of Education, University of California at Berkeley.
To the Editor:
While it is true that many schools have reduced specified time for other subjects to produce more time for language arts and math to prepare students for No Child Left Behind testing, this does not necessarily mean the elimination of social studies and science.
During field visits to schools in more than a dozen states for a book that I recently completed for publication later this year, I found that elementary schools are increasingly teaching social studies and science during part of the time designated for language arts.
Don't forget that children need subject matter about which to read and write. Some school systems are deliberately designing their language arts programs to include more than basic readers and storybooks.
Gene I. Maeroff
The writer is a senior fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a former education reporter for The New York Times.
To the Editor:
As a high school student, I'm completely opposed to "narrowing the curriculum." It is bad for the students.
What happens to these students after they have been deprived of government, history, science and so much more?
This is what I think will happen.
Those students will not learn the lessons of history and how to avoid the mistakes of those who came before them. Scientific innovation will no longer happen in the United States because children will not be exposed to it.
Hundreds of teachers will be out of work because their departments will be dropped from schools. Kids will be denied classes that might lead to a lifelong interest like music.
This practice is bad for everyone. If the new tests are what's forcing school districts to take this drastic step, why not just get rid of the tests?
Great Falls, Va
To the Editor:
Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College, equates intensive reading instruction with a violinist's being forced to play nothing but "scales, scales, scales."
As a seventh-grade reading and drama teacher, I say intensive reading instruction can be books, books, books.
If a creative, energetic reading teacher has the autonomy to use the highest quality children's literature and nonfiction in the classroom, then the reading curriculum can include history, science, medicine, geography and all other subjects.
Teachers with the skill to help their students read for meaning rather than for mere fluency, and make connections between what they are reading and their own lives and interests, can produce knowledgeable young people who love to read.
Children allowed to have some choice in reading material, to read and discuss great books in the classroom, to find the books' settings on a world map and to dramatize their favorite scenes, can recognize that books are a source of valuable and interesting information on any subject.
The biggest behavior problem in my classroom: getting the kids to put their books down.
Sally K. Chrisman