The other day I had to read aloud a passage to one of my students. It was one of those drill-and-kill test-preparation lessons. This student is an over-aged boy in the 8th grade. The passage I read to him was about Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon.
After he finished, and I collected the testing material, I struck up a conversation by commenting how Linus was my favorite. I then asked this student who was his favorite character in Peanuts.
The boy just looked at me.
“Do you like Charlie Brown, or maybe you’re a Snoopy fan?” I persisted.
The boy said he doesn’t know who is Charlie Brown or Snoopy.
I thought he was kidding, or maybe mistaken.
“You know Snoopy is that cute white beagle with the black spot and big floppy ears” I reminded him. I started to feel desperate.
After this sad conversation, I kept thinking about this boy. He was born and raised here in the US. He doesn’t know Charlie Brown or Snoopy. What happened?
Now you know I’m not saying everyone has to know Charlie Brown, or any particular comic strip for that matter. What disturbs me is that this boy seems to lack general background knowledge.
Maybe the test-writers need to select passages about topics that are more contemporary. I don’t know.
But what I DO know is parents need to wake up and smell the coffee. Parents, YOU are your child’s first teacher! You MUST make time to read to your children and to talk with them.
Can’t afford to buy books and things? No problem! A library card is free, and so are all the resources at your public library.
Don’t have time? Then MAKE TIME. Do you honestly think I have time to read with my grandson after school? I work all day, and then come home to cook and clean and work some more. I remember falling asleep sometimes while supervising his homework and/or reading. That’s how tired I am after work.
There is no substitute for parental involvement. Parents (grand parent, legal guardian, whoever) must interact with their children in order to build a rich wealth of background knowledge. This “background knowledge” will act like a magnet for all the academic knowledge his/her teacher will impart later in the classroom. It’s true. I know. I’ve seen this work, and it’s amazing.