Growing Into Literacy

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the Common Core Standards when it comes to public education in America. I think it takes away the enjoyment of education for the child, it’s far too static, and the child does not get enough chances to use their imagination and creativity when it comes to learning. We, as in our generation and the generations before us, learned through doing and discovery. This young generation is learning from seeing, not observing. And it scares and infuriates me.

The truth is when you take away a child’s chance to be creative and use their own mind to solve a problem, you basically tell them to solve the problem for someone else, instead of themselves. Thus, learning becomes a job and not an adventure. It already takes a fun, colorful event and turns it to a dull gray hue when you think about it. Who wants to learn bored-child_2784027blike that? Let a child be artistic! Let them explore with their hands and eyes. Let them make mistakes first while they try to solve the problem. Then, and only then, should we say, “Okay, now that you see what didn’t work, do you want to know how it does work?” Then you show them the solution. It creates a much more efficient way for the child to think critically of his or her experiences.

Here’s an example. Not all children look forward to field trips. Some may not be into art and/or history, but if you take one to a museum, or an aquarium, or a planetarium, there is always going to be something that will catch their eyes and leave them asking questions. They get a chance to discover something that they had not known before and they do it all themselves. There is curiosity in our children and teens and our mission, as parents and educators, is to tap it. From there, we can do miraculous things with how they learn and what they want to learn. This sets up the growing foundations of their literacy in information.

Now when I say literacy, I don’t just mean being able to read. What I mean is taking in information from one’s surroundings, being able to evaluate it, and using it for its proper purposes. Therefore, literacy can take on multiple forms. In our educational system today, the most important types of literacy, in my humble opinion, are reading literacy, computer literacy, and information literacy. If a student of any age is able to take in information, evaluate that information in a critical sense, and use that information accordingly to communicate their own opinions and knowledge to other parties, there should be no limit to how much they can learn and discover as a student (or any person who wants to grow academically).

Let’s break this down a little bit…

First, a young student should strive to be reading literate. While there are many other ways to gain information, such as listening to a radio broadcast or holding a verbal conversation, being able to read, to comprehend a written language, is one of the more key things to enhancing a child’s learning experience. I am always happy to see parents come into the library and ask about story time and reading programs for children who aren’t even a year old. By showing their child at such a young age that books and reading are an essential part of our lives, they will grow up with the desire to explore on their own and find out just what lies in these books and documents we, as parents and educators, have come to value so much.

Second, with our age of technology, computer literacy is a must. Most times, it is how we communicate, explore, and discover most of the information we seek. As a librarian, I use an online catalog to look up items for our patrons. Card catalogs are a thing of the past. The last cards were actually printed by OCLC just last week, bringing an end to an era of library science. But I digress. If there are questions I have to answer, I turn to Google a number of times to find a quick explanation. I write reports and print them on Microsoft Word. I know how to navigate the World Wide Web in order to find whatever I seek. As we, as a people, dive further into an age of technological advances and dependency, we need to be able to train our children how to work these hard, tangible sciences ourselves. If not, then how will they be able to keep up with the world around them successfully? Sit with your child while they are online. Explore and discover with them. Don’t think of it as a way to supervise them (although in some cases, it may be a good idea). Try to use it as a way to bond and learn together.

Thirdly, if a child is going to pursue academia, high school and beyond, they need to become information literate. Just because all information on the World Wide Web is readily available does not mean that it is true, and there for complete public use. The same goes for use of information in books, magazines, etc. When a student becomes information literate, they are able to perform a number of tasks. They are able to say, “I found this information. I know what this information means. When I used this information, I am going to say that the source of this information is here, it is not my original information, but it does support what I have to say.” If you’re wondering why this sounds familiar, it is because this is the basic concept we learned in school about how to choose resources when citing our papers. Many students are learning these concepts at younger ages now that the theft of information and plagiarism has become such a wide-spread topic. It is no longer the idea of copying off someone else’s work. It is now the issue of stealing work that isn’t yours and passing it off as your own. In many colleges and universities, this has been the cause for failure of classes, or in some cases, expulsion. Every child should take the time to learn the concepts of information literacy and learn how to create their own work before they try to build off of someone else’s creation. Work with them on their reports and projects. If either of you have questions, don’t be afraid to contact teachers or librarians. They make their careers out of answering questions like this. They want to help you discover and develop your skills.

The bottom line is this. Those who were lazy and bored didn’t make history. It was those who had curiosity and interest who went on to discover wonderful things when it came to science, learning, and the human race. This is something that we need to remember when it comes to education in the United States. We need to remember, above all things, that we need to be literate. We need to be able to read. We need to be able to navigate technology. We also need to be able to navigate information. Above all else, we need to work together to expand our horizons beyond what we think our government’s standards should be. At least, that’s my $0.02 on it.

*Please note that this entry appeared as an essay on the blog for the Wayne Public Library. Adrianne Schinkai is the essay’s author and it has been cross-posted with permission. Thank you.

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