EDITORIAL: Excellent teachers

Selection of Teachers of the year in the Lee County and Tupelo public school systems always puts the spotlight on the primary catalysts for learning in every classroom: People dedicated to children's learning.

Lindy Hopkins, Lee County's Teacher of the Year, has taught going on 27 years, and her job at Saltillo Elementary School is fourth and fifth grade gifted education. The most intellectually gifted and eager students require an excellent teacher.

Kay Collins, named Tupelo Public Schools' Teacher of the Year this week, is a 24-year veteran of classrooms in the Lee County system as well as Tupelo Middle, Milam, King Elementary and Church Street, where she teaches second- and third-grade gifted classes.

At the heart of Hopkins' and Collins' teaching is reading proficiency and comprehension among their students. Reading well and reading voluminously remains a cornerstone of good educations from the first words to doctoral dissertations.

Despite the great work of fine teachers like Hopkins and Collins, reading is an “at risk” activity in the United States, especially among young adults and particularly among young men.

Researchers Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky wrote this week in The Washington Post about the disturbing trend nationwide of kids and young adults, particularly boys, reading less and less in their leisure time.

Young adults read for literature only 8 minutes a day, on average, but men enjoy almost an hour more leisure time than women, so the proportion of time spent is less.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that between 1992 and 2002, among high school seniors, girls lost two points in reading scores and boys lost six points “leaving a 16-point differential in their averages on tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.”

The Bauerlein-Stotsky commentary goes on to criticize reading curriculums nationwide that don't recognize reading preference differences between boys and girls and the decline of traditional reading for boys about great heroes, scientists, inventors and leaders.

We suspect the cause is much broader than just what's required reading in schools. If good literature and reading aren't required or at least strongly encouraged at home even the best lessons in school won't get needed reinforcement.

The encouraging news is that what seems obvious to many good teachers and parents is finally getting through in the higher echelons of American academia. The people who run the National Assessment last year started a study focusing on the content of required reading and gender differences and how it affects academic performance.

Good.

The secondary goal is getting boys to read more. We hope the final and broadest result is a renaissance everywhere of “classical” reading that has the indisputable adventures of real people and the inspiration of age-appropriate great fiction.

Kids and young adults, with that background, will be informed for better choices. Maybe one choice will be reading more – much more – than eight minutes a day in their leisure.

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