MORENO VALLEY—Parents worried about the quality of their children’s education these days can do a few things to lend a hand, according to Stephen
Buy comic books.

Buy a flashlight.

Let their youngsters read the comics under the blankets at night.

Krashen, a nationally known expert on literacy and bilingual education, did not actually endorse that sleep-depriving methodology during his remarks to Moreno Valley educators and parents yesterday.

But his underlying point has been validated by numerous studies, Krashen argued – that children who are allowed to read, who read willingly and for entertainment, generally become better and more enthusiastic students than those who don’t.

“It’s not just that reading is good for our children,” Krashen said. “I think that reading is the only way. I think it’s the only way you become a good reader, the only way you become a good writer, the only way you get a large vocabulary. “

But that is not something school districts do much to encourage, said Krashen, a professor of education at the University of Southern California. Reading classes are chock full of vocabulary drills and spelling drills, while school libraries – thanks to funding cuts – become emptier and emptier, he said.

“I think we have to seriously rethink what we are doing when we teach language in drills and exercises,” Krashen said. “I think all we are doing when we teach . . . like this, is testing.

“School in other words is a test – a test that privileged children, wealthy children who grew up with books – pass.

“The less wealthy students fail. “

Krashen invented a highly respected method of bilingual education that rejects the sink-or-swim approach advocated by some critics of bilingual education programs in public schools. In Krashen’s program, non-English students with no English skills are taught core subjects in their native language, while other subjects that depend less on language skills – such as art and physical education – are taught with English-speaking children.

As the non-English-speaking students’ language skills improve, their exposure to English in tougher subjects increases until eventually they are learning all their subjects in English.

That kind of gradual exposure to English works best in bilingual education, Krashen said, because the intellectual process is not one bound by language. A student who understands a mathematical concept will be able to connect that concept from one language to another.

As an example of that kind of learning from context, Krashen asked for a show of hands from his 100 or so listeners from those familiar with Celsius temperatures.

Only a few hands went up.

“One science teacher and two Canadians,” Krashen observed, to laughter.

His point was that it is easier to learn a new way to express a concept – such as warm weather – rather than translate from one expression to another.

Non-English-speaking parents can help their children the same way that English-speaking parents can – by encouraging their children to read, for fun, in their native language, even if it is reading comic books.

Krashen pointed to Asian immigrants, many of whom arrive in the United States speaking no English only to rise to the top of their classes within a few years.

“The crucial variable is not Hispanic/Asian,” he said. “The crucial variable is the quality of the education in the first language. “

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