What is wrong with reading?

WEDNESDAY, February 19, 2020

Why millions of kids can’t read…

I’ll just quote this, to make a point..

“Across the country, millions of kids are struggling. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32 percent of fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders aren’t reading at a basic level. Fewer than 40 percent are proficient or advanced.” (Jan 2, 2019)

Here is what is shocking to me. I’ve known this all my life, what is wrong, why kids fail, and I totally do not understand why other people don’t get it. This article is not even good, because it only describes a problem without actually getting to the source. A far better question would be: why are things getting worse and worse?

But the bottom line is that some lucky kids catch on immediately – I did somehow. In fact, I was in a weaker reading group in first grade, then somehow just absorbed enough to move up to the top reading group, and I’ve been reading voraciously ever since. I love books, and in fact now read fluently in German and pretty well in Spanish. I’m still improving in French.

Reading language was taught better when I was born, but it was still far from perfect.

My cousin never learned to read, and it was blamed on hyperactivity and dyslexia. The real reason is that his teaching was horrible, so no one tried to find out why he could not read, and so he never read a book. My brother, although certainly a far better reader then my cousin, never really liked books and struggled in school. There have always been huge problems for some kids, for way more kids than should have had problems.

Music reading is taught much worse…

If you take all the ignorance about teaching reading of languages, multiply it by around 100 for what is going on in music. It is shocking. I have kindergarten students who read music better than some of the teens and adults who have come to me from other teachers. Those other older students also do fine when I retrain them to read properly. Almost anyone can learn to read music well if they go about it in a way that works efficiently.

If you can’t read music, who do you turn to for help?

At least people who have problems reading language can often turn to family or friends for help. Other people in the family can read. Friends can read. There are always people who read books and love books. Even considering the hopeless state reading has reached in the US, we can assume that 60% of students do read well by high school.

But most kids – and for that matter adults – don’t know anyone who can read music well. For all those who can’t read music, it seems as though those who can do so possess some kind of magic, that they have special abilities. Or better, perhaps, they feel as if they are the reading squibs or muggles of the world. For those who do not know Harry Potter, muggles are the people who have no ability at all in magic, and squibs at most have a tiny sense of what magic is but can do barely more than muggles.

Reading music  is a vanishing skill…

You would think that with computers, games, tablets and all the technology, more and more people would learn to read music earlier and faster, and this should happen, but music reading is getting worse. For one thing, it used to be expected that well-educated people would play an instrument well, and that meant reading music. But today most people do not play an instrument, and in many families there is not one musician to turn to for help.

This is not a recent problem…

Starting in the 20th century, more than a hundred years ago, reading and teaching started to get ever weaker as more and more talented young pianists began to play by ear, and this started a troubling trend of musicians playing only by ear. This also produced some incredibly talented players, but reading music was starting to disappear, and today it’s gotten so bad that young players are trying to learn to play music by watching people on the Internet. This is a disaster.

Are there solutions?

Yes, there are, and I have quite a few of them. It’s not hopeless, and every day I see my students as young as six learning to read lines and spaces in two clefs in the first two weeks using only a keyboard chart at first, and that chart is phased out rather quickly.

We need new techniques for sure, but we also need to make sure we don’t throw out things that have been working for a very long time. We also need to use all the technology we have, and most teachers are not using it. Teaching music exactly as it was done three centuries ago will not work. But we also need to find out how parents and teachers of famous composers taught. We have lost some good things, and we need to get many of them back. If we combine those old strengths with 21st century technology, the result should be better, not worse, and I believe I know exactly how that can and should be accomplished.

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