Reading Is Not Fundamental: Who Remembers the SRA Reading Box?
Does anyone remember the SRA reading box? The box contained an assortment of short stories organized by a series of never-ending color tabs. Complete the brown story in a set amount of time, answer a few questions, then move on to the orange tab and so on. I was stuck in fall colors. Stuck until I sat next to my buddy Dave, that is. (Dave became our high school salutatorian; now he’s a respected engineer in LA. Bully for him, he’s well off and warm.) I quickly noticed that Dave was reading far into the chartreuse-y levels. Chartreuse, BTW, is a color that even Google could barely spell. I just looked it up so no one reading this would be surprised that I was hanging around in the brown section feeling angry I couldn’t finish the boring ditty I was slogging through before the DING! Then frustrated that I couldn’t remember the dog’s name was Malachi not Sparky. I’m sure much of my time was squandered noodling on why would anyone name a dog Malachi.
Lucky for me, like Malachi, I was scrappy. Early on I knew that this color-tabbed timed reading thing was not set up for my kind of rock-skipping mind, so I quickly abandoned due diligence and morality and opted for survival. I started to game the system by reading the first paragraph, then reading the last paragraph, and then spending my last seconds skimming feverishly around for names like Malachi. This technique was soon honed and it was not long before I could also sneak a peak over to Dave’s card. Having caught up, I wanted to make sure his answers were as solid as mine. Dave thought I was funny and helped out when he could — except when it came to chess and checkers. He was a young Bobby Fisher, while I was a kid who bobbed up and down in his seat and liked to go fishing.
What I learned was how to survive and compete, not how to read with curiosity or joy. We are all aware that education, like life itself, is filled with unintended consequences — both good and bad. And yet, I wish more schools were focused on finding talents and igniting curiosity instead of pigeon-holing stories — and students — into categories of ability. I want them to see beyond the hierarchies of the classroom to help students transcend them, like my friend Dave did. Dave, thanks for letting me sit next to you.