Reading discriminates, writes Robert Pondiscio in City Journal. “A child growing up in a book-filled home with articulate, educated parents who fill his early years with reading, travel, museum visits, and other forms of enrichment arrives at school with enormous advantages in knowledge and vocabulary.” If schools teach ignore the gaps in knowledge and language, disadvantaged kids will fall even farther behind.
Most reading curricula try to develop comprehension “skills” uncoupled from subject-specific knowledge, he writes. In theory, students can apply these all-purpose “reading strategies” to anything.
Education is “not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire,” goes a popular teacher adage. Empty buckets seldom burst into flames.
Children who don’t know enough to understand what they read will not “catch” a love of reading, Pondiscio concludes.
“Research on the necessity of background knowledge for reading comprehension is decisive and uncontroversial,” writes Mark Bauerlein. Yet reading instruction still favors “comprehension strategies” (“identify the main idea,” etc.) over “acquisition of general knowledge.”