Don't Let Big Business Ruin It for Your Child
Thoughts on early reading by P.J. Rooks
I need one of those tomato planters that hangs upside down from the porch. Do you understand? I need it!
And before you decide to do me a favor by telling me that I'm a sucker for a good marketing ploy, let me just correct your word choice. "Sucker" is a vast understatement. I have a near-fatal attraction to any compelling piece of marketing and the reason is that good marketing ploys are, well, good.
With the proper allocation of a mere $19.95, I can have a drop-dead gorgeous body, make a fortune from the comfort of my own living room, be the much-envied mother of the world's most brilliant children, and savor a bountiful crop of home-grown tomatoes. How simple is that?! I hope that there's a small army of operators standing by because, whatever it is, I want it! Now where's my credit card?
But perhaps I am a bit too quick to let the world of big business pull my strings.
Remember the days of blasting Bach into the otherwise peaceful wombs of the unborn because some anonymous expert had "scientifically proven" that classical music makes babies smarter?
Never much of one for doing things by the book, I cranked on Latin rock instead, hoping that my captive listener might later enjoy a special knack for foreign languages. Does any of this actually work? Well, no--but shush!--that's an industry secret!
In the research, the idea that listening to music makes kids smarter is called The Mozart Effect, and it's been disproven numerous times over. Even the original study that started the whole thing offered it to the science community with a heavy dose of skepticism. And what, exactly, caused such a stir?
One researcher found that allowing college students to listen to classical music before taking an I.Q. test improved their spatial relations scores. Voila, The Mozart Effect! The improvements were marginal, though--just a few points--and even worse, the effects lasted less than 15 minutes.
The researcher, and several who repeated the experiment later, came to believe that the heightened scores had more to do with improvements in mood than in intellect. The unfortunate truth is that you can't turn your child into a little Einstein by having them listen to a bit of classical music every day, no matter how charmingly it's presented.
Too bad the Disney company didn't hand out cheap stock shares while they were busy fictionalizing, animating, and selling an unsuspicious public on this little chunk of non-science. I wouldn't have minded tagging along for the big money ride.
Even today, some fifteen years after the original study, there's a huge amount of internet hype on the phenomenon of the Mozart Effect.
There are no magic bullets. You cannot make a child a genius by forcing Beethoven on him, nor can you make him educated by teaching him how to read. Many kids can read, but do they? Do they like it enough to pick up a book on their own or are we trashing the magic for them before they ever even have a chance to see it?
Big business knows that we love being proud of our kids, and they know how to get us to pay for it, too. Much like the Mozart Effect, their tactics fall under the heading of "feel-good marketing for today's busy parents."
First, it's easy--you can buy a Leap Frog product or a learning video and the battle is half-won! Second, it's good parenting--you can buy all sorts of Dick and Jane-style readers and spend some quality time together (ahem--boring the poor kid numb with the contents).
Then, when you're done buying all these fine things you can also, of course, plan to purchase an Ivy League education for your child prodigy. It's a mixed blessing indeed, but just imagine the compliments--"Your daughter is reading Tolstoy at seven? She's a shoo-in for Harvard!"
Will Harvard make her happy, though? Will it enrich her life or just her wallet?
The sad fact is that as you sit there trying so hard to push your child to read, you're most likely just shoving the love of reading right out of her.
Being able to read at an impressively young age comes with what economists call an "opportunity cost." It means you've got to ask yourself this: what did you have to give up to get here?
To me, the opportunity cost of teaching my daughter to read before kindergarten is just way too high. We'd rather focus on vocabulary and social skills, and what better way to do that than to sail through as many books as we can before they haul her off to school and pummel her with the sleepy fundamentals of word construction.
Reading is the cornerstone of education, which is the path to an enriched, compassionate, and happier life.
If Freddy Trailer doesn't like to read, his vocabulary will suffer as will his take on the world--after all, without books, Freddy's vicarious experiences of life are limited to television, movies, and the stories of people he knows.
Freddy will never really get the chance to solve Scarlett O'Hara's personal shortcomings for her (which are far more complex in the book than in the movie), to watch a child's sense of injustice crystallize as Scout's does in To Kill a Mockingbird, or to get an insider scoop from the realm of the homeless as offered by John Hoffman in The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving.
It doesn't have to be literary or snobbish to be valuable--all reading, all books provide access to the words and ideas that every one of us needs, and the more the better. Without them, however, I'm afraid that poor Freddy will be reduced to trying to make his point by throwing dishes, or worse yet, punches. Not exactly a strategy for a happy life.
Will your kid be an incarcerated plate-lobber by the age of eight and a repeat offender by 18 if you don't knuckle down, shell out some hard-earned cash, and teach the little urchin to read? Well, no librarian would ever tell you that at any rate, but then again, they're not in it for the money. They've got their hands on the number one secret that all those brainy baby folks would rather you didn't know: loving to read is absolutely free. Don't let big business ruin it for your child.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.