Thinking Out Loud

July 24, 2020

Children, the Pandemic, and Why I Can’t Read Anymore

Filed under: Christianity, education, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Can a child lose their ability to read?

I did.

Imagine it’s the first week of regular school and the teacher calls you in for a brief meeting.

“I’m afraid that the extended time period without a formal education program has resulted in a giant step backwards in reading and math skills.”

Would you be surprised?

Actually it happens every summer. It’s called “Summer reading loss” or “Summer learning loss.” Copy both phrases into your search engine of choice.

Now Yale University and CNBC are among the news outlets reporting studies on the effects of longer school shutdowns due to coronavirus that parallel summer vacation studies previously reported by the Washington Post and Harvard University.

If some studies seem inconclusive, I think it’s because much depends on the student. While we speak of a “learning curve” that’s hopefully rising upward to the right, without practice, some people can take a step backwards.

So what’s my story?

I basically took a giant step away from formal piano lessons and lost of much of the ability to read music that I had. Instead, I learned how to read chord charts (basically guitar music) and with each passing day, although I sounded better and more confident, those little black dots connected to the five horizontal lines started to lose their meaning.

It could be argued that I wasn’t that good to begin with. That I hadn’t achieved the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell says is necessary for the mastery of an instrument. But today, my reading is not what it was, or more importantly, what it could have been. I was considered musically gifted, and could have easily become the next Yo Yo Ma, if it wasn’t for the fact that he plays the cello.

For a lot of kids today, information input comes through YouTube. It is, in many respects, the equivalent of my shifting from reading staff notation to reading guitar notation. We gone from literacy to orality, just as other parts of the world are advancing in the opposite direction.

Information output and sharing happens through pictorial platforms such as Instagram and through texting. (“Did U gt my txt?”) Cursive writing has disappeared and the need for correct spelling has been replaced by spell-check. (“Witch works quiet we’ll no matter wear your form.”)

I enjoy playing at church with worship teams and can easily help others. I’ve learned the guitarists’ language well enough to tell a novice, “You’re playing an A-major-7th instead of a regular A-seventh.”

But at the front of the auditorium is a giant pipe organ. Because my wife is the music director, I know where the keys are kept, so to speak, and I can crank out “A Mighty Fortress is our God” with enough passion that the images in the stained glass windows lift their hands and sing along.

However, I’m not reading it note-for-note out of the hymnbook. I wish I could render it as the book does. My sight-reading took a giant hit.

The store I work at sells supplemental workbooks for kids. I did a rough count today and we have about 175 in stock; each one is appropriate for a particular grade. I know the schools have been providing things online and those things are free, but some kids need some extra help in grammar, spelling, arithmetic, fractions and decimals, science, etc.

Since the lockdown that ‘department’ of the store has made two sales. Two. I’m not saying people don’t see the value in those products, I’m saying I don’t think parents see the potential of what their kids are losing by not, as my piano teacher would say, practicing daily.

What you don’t use you lose.

1 Comment »

  1. This explains why I can’t sight-read piano anymore, except the simplest tunes. It has been more than 50 years since my last lesson, and I must admit I haven’t been practicing. I take Gladwell’s famous 10,000 hours wit a huge chunk of salt though – his best-known example doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

    Comment by Lorne Anderson — July 24, 2020 @ 7:37 am

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