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Reversing Readicide

By Karin Kroener-Valdivia
 | May 18, 2017

Reversing Readicide“This will be the first book I ever read,” shouted one of my seniors. I had left him little choice; he could either read or not graduate. A week earlier, a 10th grader made the same comment. When asked how she made it through so many years of school without reading a book, she explained, “English teachers ask for quote analysis, and it’s really easy to do that without reading the book.”

I’ve heard many similar confessions throughout my 18 years of teaching. Many of my students are reading five to six years behind grade level. I have seniors about to graduate high school who do not meet the literacy demands needed to fully function in society.

Kelly Gallagher (2009) defines readicide as “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.” He attributes this genocide to two main factors: high-stakes testing (which often leads teachers to value test-taking skills over reading proficiency) and limited authentic reading experiences.

Gallagher’s theory echoes observations and experiences from my own teaching career. I’ve seen English classrooms with no books, or only tattered copies of classic titles. The urban high schools where I teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are becoming book deserts.

Even when books are available, some administrators and educators do not allow students to read during class out of fear of losing valuable learning time. I believe that when students are allotted time for free voluntary reading, they become better readers, score higher on achievement tests, and expand their content knowledge.

Teachers can use free reading time to supplement textbook learning. For example, when studying the Holocaust, students might choose to read Elie Wiesel’s Night: a teen’s account of his survival from the Nazi death camps. Another example is Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan’s Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, which offers creative explanations for geometry concepts.

I understand that building a strong classroom library can be difficult with budget restrictions. Teachers can try borrowing a class set of novels from the public library, browsing secondhand bookstores, or applying for grants from education nonprofits. I have received $1,000 in book grants from donorschoose.org every year for the past five years.

Ray Bradbury captured the importance of voluntary reading when he said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

Concerned educators—it’s time to take action. Let’s reverse readicide.

Karin Kroener-Valdivia is an 18-year English teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District in California. She is also National Board Certified and a UCLA Writing Project Fellow.

1 comment

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  1. Julia Franks | May 22, 2017
    You may want to take a look at loosecanon.com, which gets kids talking about books and tracks their book choices from year to year. On the site, students collect past titles, rate and review them, and share those reviews school-wide. Students carry their “reading resumes” from grade to grade. Also has a great sortable searchable list of books, a“canon” that's aggregated by teachers.  

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