Thursday, October 16, 2008

Words: The New Wheaties

Yes, this is going to be about the debate last night, in particular, Obama's comments about Education reform; I appreciated that he put some of the responsibility on the parents (although, as always, I remain skeptical that parents will actually accept this responsibility). Anyhow, I've been slowly (or lazily) reading Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf which is the story and science of the reading brain. I came across a passage today while riding the 7 into Long Island City and it's been floating around in my head and heart chambers all day.

"Learning to read begins the first time an infant is held and read a story. How often this happens, or fails to happen, in the first five years of childhood turns out to be one of the best predictors of later reading. A little-discussed class system invisibly divides our society, with those families that provide their children environments rich in oral and written language opportunities gradually set apart from those who do not, or cannot. A prominent study found that by kindergarten, a gap of 32 million words already separates some children in linguistically impoverished homes from their more stimulated peers. In other words, in some environments the average young middle-class child hears 32 million more spoken words than the young underprivileged child by age five.

Children who begin kindergarten having heard and used thousands of words, whose meanings are already understood, classified, and stored away in their young brains, have the advantage on the playing field of education. Children who never have a story read to them, who never hear words that rhyme, who never imagine fighting with dragons or marrying a prince, have the odds overwhelmingly against them."

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