Tag Archives: online reading

Do children need to learn to read anymore?

magna cartaI obviously think learning to read is a great idea. I earn my living writing children’s books. Children’s hard labour keeps me busy with honest toil.

I wouldn’t want children to grow up without recourse to the wonderful worlds of fantasy that I was able to explore in my youth. Narnia was not just a collection of words, to me it was a real place where, in complete safety, I learned long-lasting lessons about bravery, treachery, politics, sword -fighting and alternative religious ideas.

The wonderful stories I read, pulled me along the path of improving my reading skills. I didn’t know that was what I was doing, I just knew I wanted to read the next in the series. But, back then, there was no question that being able to read and write was a passport to grown-up society, where everything revolved around the written word.

But in a connected world of screens, retina scans, video, text to speech and speech to text, do children still really have to go through that painful, laborious process of learning to read? You just have to watch a pre-school child to see how they deal with technology – it’s as if the instructions were genetically imprinted.

I wouldn’t want children to miss out on all the wonderful characters who inhabited my childhood or my children’s childhoods. But those stories would still be available in apps and movies, videos and t-shirts.

Today is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

If you could not read its contents, and have read enough to have learned how to interpret and read between the lines, you would have to accept what you were being told about it by the machine that was explaining it to you.

With words, unless they have been burned by a frightened authority, you can always go back to the source. Screens are a cut and paste world where every bit, every byte and every pixel can be carelessly modified by algorithms created by nameless drones working for unaccountable organisations.

Yes, children do still need to learn to read and to learn to read well, to be able to question and interpret. As they grow up into a world we can hardly begin to imagine, they must be able to return to the source codes of honesty, integrity, compromise and law. Those are the real lessons learned in children’s books.

It is the the stories that provide the pleasure that masks the pain and hard labour of learning to read, that make the process an exciting adventure that develops a thirst for knowledge and a dawning understanding of how others view the world. Reading a book is the closet you can get to reading someone else mind.

So I will gladly carry on writing – It’s my duty to try and help the next generation save itself from itself.

Do children really need to learn to read anymore?

For so many years I’ve heard the same argument: “You wouldn’t read an ebook in bed or in the bath, would you?” I shower, so no – but in three or four years time, they’ll give eBook readers away for free and I won’t think twice about reading them in the bath.

I do, however, find I reach for my iPad in bed. I’m not reading like I used to, I’m watching instruction videos. I love them. I love TED and youtube and all the things they teach me. When I account for my general knowledge, I’d say 80% has come from the TV and the Radio – no reading involved.

So, do we still need to teach children to read? I think it’s a serious question.

When I was at school, after years of unsuccessfully learning my times tables by wrote, a friend brought in a pre-release version of the Sinclair pocket calculator. It might as well have been dropped by a UFO. That truly was a paradigm shifting moment. So much of all that mental arithmetic we used to learn, not to mention log tables and slide rules went out the door that moment. We don’t need to learn how to add up any more, we only need to know how to press the + key and we can be shown how to do that on a video. Most people rarely do anything other than +-x or ÷ in their entire lives maybe the odd %.

All practical skills are far better taught on video than in books.

Who needs inferior, printed images in dusty old books when you have the spectacular images from the greatest galleries around the world available in glowing, ultra-high definition, projected on your 3d wall-sized living room screen?

What is important – the story and the message or the words that contain them and the medium upon which they appear? A word is still a word, even if it isn’t written down. In fact most of man’s trials and tribulations come when the literate insist on setting words in stone and filling books full of rules.

I heard this weekend, that Salman Rushdie say TV is the new literature – I would agree with him. More books are sold than ever before, but their numbers pale into insignificance compared with the numbers watching TV drama. Who needs novels, other than production companies requiring* stories?

We blight our children’s early lives with this desperate desire to reach targeted reading attainment levels, all for political re-election purposes. To what end? The iPad today is like the pocket calculator was way back then. The only words we’ll need to know in future are < • || and > and maybe on and off.

Why do we need to learn to read when the written word will be defunct in the very near future?

(Of course, when I’ve watched all the videos and learned what I need about ActionScript 3 coding to get me up and running, there are a couple of old-fashioned paper books on my bedside table that I might just indulge myself with. After all, I still love the shapes that letters make on paper and in my head – but what do I know – I’m just an old fuddy-duddy the future belongs to the kids.)