An Intellectual Education
for All Children
the History Channel at night on the heretofore arcane subject
of the War of 1812, I learned that the fires in Washington,
D.C. set by the British were eventually doused by a huge
thunder and rainstorm followed by a tornado that sent the
British scurrying. I also learned Dolly Madison was the last
to leave Washington, having been preceded by her husband
and all the craven legislators, while she saved important
artifacts from the White House. Why wasn’t I ever taught these exciting
facts in school?
If you ever watch
kindergarten children on the first day of school, you’ll see that they
are all dressed carefully, hair combed or tied in ribbons, and eager to begin
school. By fourth grade these bright eager children are slumped over in chairs,
listlessly going through the day. Why?
School can be
so much more exciting if we give students from day one of their education
facts and knowledge about history, science, music and art. They come wanting
to learn. Let’s capitalize on it.
First, for beginning
reading instruction, all children––no matter from what social or economical
group––thrive on good, systematic phonetic instruction that makes
use of all sensory pathways. Comprehension begins with the word, proceeds to
the sentence and then to the paragraph. As words are written, their meanings
can be discussed. Teachers can help students examine words closely for meaning
from first grade on. For example, Sunday means the day of the sun, Monday means
day of the moon. Children are fascinated by this, and it is the beginning of
a wonderful intellectual journey.
While this foundation
for reading, writing and spelling is going on, a teacher can read to his
or her pupils about ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia or Egypt. Together
the teacher and the class can look at maps to see where these civilizations
were. They can draw time lines and measure with rulers to place 3000 or 2000
B.C.E. on the line. They can sound out and write words and names pertinent
to these studies, such as Mesopotamia, Hammurabi, pyramid, papyrus, (all
of these words can be taught phonetically) but most important, they can expand
world and make knowledge exciting. This is how to develop comprehension.
What child on
a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the American Museum of Natural
History didn’t want to (ghoulishly) see the mummies?
But the preservation of mummies explains the religion of ancient Egypt. There
is one publisher that is publishing introductory materials at first– and
second–grade levels on subjects such as these, and of course, the above-mentioned
museums have books and kits for teachers and parents. Teachers could also
start reading Greek myths and proceed to studying ancient Greece. Soon, with
a good direct instruction and phonetic foundation in reading, second and
third graders will be able to read for themselves siÍmple books on these
These explorations will also
make the classroom more exciting for the teacher as he or she broadens his
own world in trying to find materials for the children. Art, science, even
arithmetic become integral to these studies, not peripheral.
All children can absorb new
knowledge, then read about the subject on their own level. We just have to
expose every child to an education that really challenges the intellect.
Sandra Priest Rose is a
reading consultant and Founding Trustee of Reading Reform Foundation www.readingreformny.org