I HAVE a modest proposal for spending just a little of that $250 million that Massachusetts is getting in Race to the Top funding from the federal government: Have all Massachusetts middle and high school students, in districts with below-average MCAS scores, choose a magazine they like, and buy them a subscription to it.This is the best idea I have heard in a while.
I have taught high school English for 36 years in a variety of schools across the country, and found that I could almost always hook poor readers with the right magazines, such as Sports Illustrated, Ebony, People, and Car and Driver.
In all my years of teaching in Massachusetts, I never had a student fail the reading section of the MCAS. My secret: a cupboard full of popular magazines, and plenty of in-class time to read them.
Not only did students improve quickly in reading ability, but many developed a love of reading, which ensured that they would continue to improve years after they left my classroom.
As a student who had to have remedial help with my own reading—thank you Hester Waldo—I understand that for some it is hard.
I do remember that in High School I had a Geometry Teacher who was a retired Navy submariner. In the back of his classroom was a desk and on it were a bunch of back issue of the United States Naval Institute Proceedings. This was a magazine where mostly Navy, Marine and Coast Guard officers published professional articles. One of the articles, I remember, was about naval mines in the North Sea, left over from World War One. The drill was that if you finished the in-class problems quickly you could go back and pick up a magazine. I would tear through those problems so I could then go to the back of the classroom and read. Thank you, Admiral Winters.
And, this idea from Ms Leonhardt dovetails with something someone mentioned a few weeks ago. The individual, an Army Officer on recruiting duty, said that when visiting poorer families on recruiting duty one of the things he noticed was that in your average "White" family he found books and magazines in sight and in your average "Black" family he did not. Somehow we have failed, as a nation, to make the point to all people, that reading is vital to moving forward and is also a source of pleasure.
For me, learning to read was hard, but people encouraged me, including our next door neighbor, Mr Fitzpatrick, who bought me my first grown-up book that I remember, Sailing to Freedom, by Voldemar Veedam. Not a run-away best seller, it is number 851,506 on the Amazon list as of this writing. But, it turned out to be a treasure for me.
UPDATE: Please note that the letter writer, Ms Mary Leonhardt is a published author at Random House Publishing. Her two books are on kids and reading and writing.
Regards -- Cliff