In his introduction, Kelly Gallagher proposes a new word to be added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary: “readicide.” A noun, “readicide” can be defined as “the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.” He goes on to explain that Readicide is inspired from his twenty-two years of experience as a teacher and a literacy consultant. His central thesis is that “rather than helping students, many of the reading practices found in today’s classrooms are actually contributing to the death of reading. In an earnest attempt to encourage reading, teachers and administrators push practices that kill many students’ last chance to develop into lifelong readers.” Gallagher is deeply critical of standardized testing and the teaching strategies they have popularized, and he provides readers with ways to end readicide.
Gallagher cites many studies to illustrate that reading has become less popular in recent years. Worse, fewer American students read as well as those in the past. Even without relying on studies, Gallagher suggests that the most illustrative example of this trend might be to ask a kindergarten teacher, a fifth-grade teacher, and a twelfth-grade teacher about the attitudes of their students towards reading. He argues that researchers should be prepared to measure the twelfth-grade teacher’s exasperation in “nanoseconds,” but otherwise predicts that the response of these teachers will shift from “enthusiasm to indifference to hostility.” He goes on to share his own students’ indifferent and hostile attitudes towards reading, and ascertains that “the number of readers dwindles with each passing year.”
Gallagher cautions his readers against blaming this trend on poverty or an abundance of other media that monopolizes children’s time, though he admits that they certainly do not help. Nevertheless, he finds that:
The focus has changed in our schools and not in a good way. High-interest reading is being squeezed out in favor of more test preparation practice. Interesting books are disappearing as funding is diverted to purchase "magic pill" reading programs. Sustained silent reading time is being abandoned because it is often seen as ‘soft’ or "nonacademic."
Although academic reading is indeed important, Gallagher points out that many students are leaving the classroom with little idea that there are other books to read. And he emphasizes that the end result is that students are graduating from high school “uninterested in books, pages, and words.”
Gallagher then tackles what he calls the “elephant in the room,” standardized testing. Gallagher explains that although learning to write a multiple-choice test is actually a useful skill, “the out-of-control, overemphasized, all-consuming teaching to these standardized tests has become the problem." In fact, he argues that it harms young readers in two ways. First, “a curriculum steeped in multiple-choice test preparation drives shallow teaching and learning.” These tests, which are given in spring (not even allowing teachers an entire year to prepare their students for them, Gallagher wryly notes) force teachers to cover their standards in a shallow way. The curriculum is broad, but it is only an "inch deep."
The second harm is just as disconcerting. Gallagher argues that “rather than lifting up struggling readers, an emphasis on multiple-choice test preparation ensures that struggling readers will continue to struggle. Test preparation reading plays a large part in maintaining ‘apartheid schools.’” Shallow testing crushes the student's curiosity and does not create “expert citizens,” nor does it teach students the “skills I want my two daughters to acquire.” Gallagher goes on to point out that this trend is particularly affecting the achievement gap in American public schools. He explains the “Paige Paradox,” which is named after Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s secretary of education and father of the readicide movement. Gallagher explains that Paige’s...
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