I was feeling pretty smug about a year ago. I had managed to pass on my love of reading to my daughter. All those years of reading aloud to her every night, sometimes for an hour at a time, had paid off. Even my ridiculous attempts at putting on different voices for each character (where I would invariably forget which one was which) had not put her off. As she got older, I tried to read ahead of her reading level, so that she would learn. I would still read her a bedtime story when she was 8 years old, even though she could read independently. If I took her with me on visits to friends, I knew that if she got bored she would just get out a book and lose herself in it. I would feel quietly superior, watching other children who needed television, video games; something that buzzed and bleeped.
At least I got one thing right, I congratulated myself. If a child reads for pleasure, they are set for life. Everyone knows that. It wasn't only the educational advantages I was pleased about, though. Reading means so much to me, I was delighted to be able to read the same books as she did, to talk to her about books, and for us to share the excitement of a visit to a bookshop.
I knew she would change as she grew, but it never once occurred to me that she would lose all interest in reading.
Until she started high school.
There were the beginnings of some problems last year, while she was still at primary school. There were things happening in her life which made it hard for her to concentrate. I had to choose books carefully to hold her interest. She mostly read the Twilight series for that year. In class, she just wasn't listening and she started to fall behind. She had more important things to sort out in her mind than school-work.
It shouldn't have mattered, shouldn't have affected her future, as she was only 10 years old. A child, who would be back on form just as soon as she could; who had her whole life to get back on form, surely? However, as any parent knows, this is not how life is for today's children. There is no room for error, and only a limited number of chances, even at that age.
She was taking the SATS exams which would determine which set she was put in at high school, which determined the level of work she was given for her first year, and to some extent determined which friends she would choose. When the results came back, I knew that she had not done as well as she could have. She was put into a mixed ability class. She has made good friends, but none of them like to read.
She knows this, because the teachers carried out a quiz with the class, to see who read books in their leisure time. My daughter did not admit to reading any, in fact all of the children answered that they spent none of their leisure time reading. A letter was sent out to parents explaining that as a result of this survey, all children must now bring a 'suitable book' to school. The beginning of one lesson every day would be devoted to reading this book.
It sounds logical. It sounds like a good plan, to encourage children to read, and encourage parents to buy books. I can imagine it seemed a very good idea in the staff room.
The result has been that my daughter ONLY reads in school. She says that she gets confused if she reads more than one book at once, and she refuses to read her school book at home, either because she likes to seperate the two environments, or because she is already so swayed by peer pressure that she thinks it would be uncool to be seen to have done any reading outside of the classroom.
This well-intentioned move has snuffed out any remaining residue of interest that my daughter had in reading. By forcing children to disclose their reading habits in public, turning it into something that is monitored and enforced by school, these teachers have divested books of any glamour or excitement. I fear that I will never again happen upon my child hiding under the covers with a torch, sneakily reading a book, and think 'that's my girl'.
I can only hope that the effect of this wears off when they stop this clever initiative, and that one day I will again have the pleasure of seeing my daughter excited at the prospect of reading a book. Until then, all I can do is fume and complain that I have to entrust my precious child to this world, these people who get everything so wrong, when they should be doing things my way...
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