Saturday, April 17, 2010

Learning to Read, American-style

My daughter brought home a list of "Instant Words" from her Kindergarten teacher yesterday. An unassuming four pages of the 500 most common words in English, ranked in frequency order. You know: "the, of, and, to, in, is, that" and so on. Innocent enough, right?

Not quite. (This may be the right time to mention that I'd just watched the new Michael Moore movie the night before.) I read throught the first 100 words, thinking proudly about how well my Kindergartener can read. Then the word "oil" popped out at me.

Oil: word number 88, among other benign words like "we, your, can, said, day, now, find, make" and such. It sticks out like a sore thumb. I've asked three other people to look at the list and pick out the word that doesn't belong and they all spotted it, too. These first hundred words make up about half of all printed material. But I can't think of one book I've read to my kids that has the word "oil" in it, so think about how frequently it must be printed in newspapers and adults' books. Is this crazy to anyone else?

Let's take a closer look at the rest of the list, shall we?

The word "boy" is number 141, "girl" is way down at 288.

"No" made the top 100, coming in at 77, but you don't find "yes" until the bottom of the fourth page at number 471, four words before "government."

Both "man" (124) and "men" (168) are there, but neither "woman" nor "women" made the top 500 at all.

"Take" (104) comes before "give" (114), but at least these two are close.

Thankfully, though, "tree" (215) comes before "building" (431). "Make" and "made" are both in the top 100, and "buy" isn't on the list. "Scientists" (438) is the only profession on the list, "Indian" (283) is the only nationality, and "English" (402) is the only language.

Public school is a system, it's true, but thankfully parenting isn't. I wish I didn't feel like I have to work against the system to keep my kids' minds outside the box, but I've seen The Wall, and I'm moved by bumper stickers, and sixties protest music is very near and dear to my heart.

Nothing excites me more than the potential of my girls. They were born into a crowded land, and will have to carry forward the legacy of our complicated history. But their reality is brand new, and that brings me the responsibility -- the opportunity -- to help them see what's most important in life. Words that aren't in the top 500, like compassion, respect, understanding, peace, and love.

And (ahem) women.


Soulyluna said...

How to read and speak like a pro:

Wendy said...

You've hit on one of the reasons I started homeschooling. When I pulled my daughter out of school in the middle of 3rd grade, we started with a trip to the MLK Jr museum. Then we learned about the civil rights movement, Gahndi and Sojourner Truth. In science we also cover a lot of info about alternative energies. There are millions of subjects to study. Why would we let the public school system decide what's important to know?

Mrs. Jones said...

Homeschooling your kids is a warm, wonderful and admirable choice, though I didn't choose that path for my family.
There are a multitude of reasons I send my kids to public school, many of which I feel quite strongly about. What I wanted to say here was that as parents we are the primary educators, no matter where our children get their "schooling." They learn from us first, and we must teach mostly by example.

Sabrina said...

very well said cousin. we have come from some great women and will pass on the legacy of these women.