Reading Scores

Well, who doesn’t love someone smart writing in:

Dear Czar,

As I read your post entitled “Liberal Science“, a light dawned upon me. When you pointed out that reading began to suffer along with math and science, I was struck with the following thought: Johnny can’t read because then he’ll be forced to accept whatever he’s told. If he could read, he would be able to make up his own mind that smaller government bureaucracy means more individual freedom, and begin to vote accordingly.

A lesser second thought occurred as I read the final two paragraphs: projection. (You may recognize that as one of my recurring themes.)

As ever,



Well, here at the Castle, we never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity. While it is true that Johnny—if that’s even his real name—could largely accept whatever he’s told if he is illiterate, the reason Johnny can’t read is because he isn’t learning how to.

Trust us—organizing a conspiracy is a lot of work! On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to support that the low literacy scores are more a result of shitty instructional method than anything else.

The Царица, don’t you know, is not only a teacher, but is actually a multi-degreed reading teacher. This is something she knows an astronomical bit about: she teaches reading to at-risk 4th-through-6th graders at a public school in a rough neighborhood. And yeah, we get to hear all about her day.

Some observations she has about reading: (1) All kids want to read, and the more they are given to read, the more they do read. (2) Reading is a simple skill that is impossible to turn off once acquired. (3) Kids start reading as soon as they are able. So given this, why the problem?

There are multiple causes for low literacy, and a lot of people are to blame. (1) Schools do not provide sufficient reading time because they are too focused on testing students on standardized forms, rather than letting the kids read whatever they want (2) Schools provide inadequate (uninteresting or antequated) materials for reading (3) Parents do not read along with their kids, but rather dump books on kids like babysitters; in fact, students will not correct mistakes on their own, but need parents to guide them through the process (4) Kids tend to blow through reading rather than develop comprehension: they ask no questions about plot, character motivation, author’s technique, stylistic differences, etc., and effectively go zombie-like through reading like a video game.

On that last bit, she has identified some commonalities with kids who have trouble reading. There is usually low parental influence (parents encourage the kids to read, but do not monitor how their kids are reading), a strong television or video game influence in the household, and the home is often loud, noisy, and unsupervised.

To be fair, a lot of kids cannot read well because they are learning English. Particularly in her school’s case, there are a strong contingent of newly arrived Mexican and Polish students—who are unable to read or write in their own languages, let alone English. This weighs down average scores, and she spends most of her time with them—explaining the intracacies of English spelling and pronunciation.

But this does not excuse a majority of schools in which students only know (in theory) English, but cannot read or write it effectively. In these cases, there is a strong emphasis on progressive education—manifested by endless state testing to ensure everyone is at the same level…even if that means a lower level. She would like to see less standardized benchmark testing and more actual reading, letting the teachers (and where needed, teachers like her) let the kids read what they want, and then have them explain what they just read.

Kids fail reading at very early ages, not at high school ages (even though the disparity becomes more dramatic in later years). And those younger kids don’t get or care for politics. Yes, there is a lot of pro-Democratic influence in the teachers and materials, but she will tell you (and we believe some studies will bear) that kids lean politically to the way their parents vote. Yep, in inner-cities, that is often Democrat. The kids themselves do not remotely understand big or small government; you did not, for example, until probably Sixth Grade or later. So it might be a bit of a stretch to think that reading comprehension is being dumbed down to brainwash 1st and 2nd Graders.

Also, you should be acutely aware that teachers and teachers’ unions are two very different groups of people. In the Царица’s experience in different areas, less than 20% of teachers are actually loyal to the unions. The rest just want to teach, reach a couple of students, and go home each day to a little quiet. It’s the 20% who trigger the strikes, stage the protests, and stink up the place for everyone else (although in some districts, that number can be a lot higher.

This is a complex topic and probably deserves a longer answer, so we welcome your questions.

About The Czar of Muscovy

Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia by upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.