Monday, October 20, 2003

Thank a Teacher?

Here's Eugene Volokh:
A bit more on bumper stickers: Apropos "If you can read this, thank a teacher" -- actually, my parents taught me to read (both Russian and English). In one sense, the sticker is still right for me: Because they taught me to read, they were by definition teachers, and my mother even worked (albeit highly unofficially) as an English teacher in Russia, teaching children of her friends as well as teaching me. But I don't quite think that this is what the sticker is referring to: I think it's meant to praise professional teachers, not just parents as teachers.

What's more, I think I should be thanking my parents for more than just teaching me to read. I should also be thanking them for taking the view that teaching their child to read is primarily their own job, and not just something to be left to professional teachers -- perhaps the opposite, in some ways, of the message the bumper sticker conveys. And while I'm happy to praise teachers for many things, I'm not sure the bumper sticker gets this matter quite right.
I too have seen this bumper sticker on several occasions, and it strikes me as rather sad, albeit representative of our times. The very premise of the bumper sticker is that parents are so universally delinquent or illiterate that their children will arrive at school having no reading abilities whatsoever, thus requiring the service of professional teachers to learn even the most basic words ("If," "you," "can," "read," etc.).

Perhaps I extrapolate too much from my own experience -- as we all are prone to do -- but I think that parents should teach their children to read long before school begins. The world would be a better place if that bumper sticker were more often false.



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