Edumacation: Reading is Fundamental

“Do we have to read this whole page?” Pause for dramatic effect. “And there’s two sides! Do we have to read BOTH sides?”

I’m in a middle school Language Arts class. In case you didn’t know, the name has been changed to English Language Arts or ELA. The number of students who are reading below grade level is astounding and many who are capable simply don’t care. Requiring them to read and write is almost too much for them to bear. The classroom is abuzz with conversations about what so-and-so said or did on the bus that morning and what social media post made them laugh. Too many kids are on their cell phones scrolling, touching, watching, grinning … not engaging in anything school-related.

So, guess what happens? The teacher begins teaching the day’s lesson and while she is teaching, at least half the class is talking to each other, scrolling through their social media sites or listening to music with headphones. The teacher asks them to put their phones away. Some slowly begin to comply, while others ignore her altogether. She repeats her request. A few more comply. She tells them again. More compliance. Finally, she gets stern and invites the rest to comply or go to the detention room. Wow! All that effort just to get students to put away their devices during class.

But wait, it gets better. After about ten minutes or so, the teacher notices a phone propped up against a backpack. The student’s gaze is fixed to the little screen as he eyes the movie playing there. A movie! The kid is watching a movie during class. The teacher walks over and tells the student to turn it off and put the phone away. He appears to comply, only to resume watching as soon as the teacher moves on to another table in the classroom. Again, the teacher tells the kid to put it away. This time she says he will have to put it away in his backpack.

“Nah.” He responds flatly. “I’ll turn it off, but I’m not putting it in there.” The teacher sighs and tells him that he will have to leave if she sees it again.

“Whatever.” He says, in a thoroughly annoyed voice – like she is the one disturbing him by asking him to act like he’s in a classroom.

That was it! I had enough of this bratty oversized toddler! I storm over to him in full mother mode and push out the words between gritted teeth. “No sir, you will not speak to an adult like that.” He looks at me with defiance. Pu-lease: I am unmoved. “You are in her classroom, not your living room. If you want to watch movies, stay home! You are in school to learn. And if you paid attention you would have learned that it’s not smart to watch a movie during class.” “Ooohs” can be heard from the other students.

“Now, what you are going to do right now is put that cell phone ALL THE WAY in your backpack and do your work! I can’t make you learn, but you better sit there and pretend you are. You understand me?” His defiant look is replaced by an is-this-lady-crazy expression.

“You eyeballin’ me little boy?” I yell as I draw my hand back and squarely pop him in the back of the head. His head ricochets forward and bumps into the desk. I watch as a small red spot tries to form on his forehead. “Now, don’t let me see that cell phone again, ’cause if I do, we’re all going to see just how far it can sail through the air!”

Pause. Feel the satisfaction! Ok, I made that last part up, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the teacher was thinking after the student’s annoyed “whatever” response.

Anyway, even after repeated warnings, the indifferent student actually goes back to watching the movie. The teacher calls for someone to come escort the child to detention. The boy has the audacity to laugh at her and grumble to his table mates that she’s ‘doing too much’. When the detention teacher comes to get him, the boy whines about how he hasn’t done anything and that the teacher is bothering him. He is right about having done nothing – no work, that is.

When he got out into the hallway, we could hear him yelling and banging something against the wall. Really? Because he couldn’t watch his cell phone during class, he had a fit of rage? Good luck getting a job, kid.

Where is the fundamental disconnect when a kid thinks he has the right to do that? He actually feels wronged. How dare the teacher come to school and try to teach! What is her problem?

I would guess that movie-watching boy is not a good reader, since he avoided reading the passage at all costs – even being willing to sit in detention. Without a strong foundation of reading and writing, his education is derailed. Like far too many American students, this boy is ‘falling through the cracks’. Or at this point in U.S. education, should we say falling through the chasms?

News flash students: you go to school to be taught, listen, and learn. If you are asked to remove anything that takes away from that, then so be it. It’s time to take your education seriously, unless you manage to get a job watching movies for a living. Granted, you wouldn’t be able to read the reviews or write about them; unless, of course, you decided as an adult to go back to school.

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