“With the publication of Fahrenheit 451, you were hailed as a visionary. What would you warn us about today? Our education system has gone to hell. It’s my idea from now on to stop spending money educating children who are sixteen years old. We should put all that money down into kindergarten. Young children have to be taught how to read and write.”
From the Spring 2010 issue of the Paris Review:
With the publication of Fahrenheit 451 , you were hailed as a visionary. What would you warn us about today?
Our education system has gone to hell. It’s my idea from now on to stop spending money educating children who are sixteen years old. We should put all that money down into kindergarten. Young children have to be taught how to read and write. If children went into the first grade knowing how to read and write, we’d be set for the future, wouldn’t we? We must not let them go into the fourth and fifth grades not knowing how to read. So we must put out books with educational pictures, or use comics to teach children how to read. When I was five years old, my aunt gave me a copy of a book of wonderful fairy tales called Once Upon a Time , and the first fairy tale in the book is “Beauty and the Beast.” That one story taught me how to read and write because I looked at the picture of that beautiful beast, but I so desperately wanted to read about him too. By the time I was six years old, I had learned how to read and write.
We should forget about teaching children mathematics. They’re not going to use it ever in their lives. Give them simple arithmetic—one plus one is two, and how to divide, and how to subtract. Those are simple things that can be taught quickly. But no mathematics because they are never going to use it, never in their lives, unless they are going to be scientists, and then they can simply learn it later. My brother, for example, didn’t do well in school, but when he was in his twenties, he needed a job with the Bureau of Power and Light. He got a book about mathematics and electricity and he read it and educated himself and got the job. If you are bright, you will learn how to educate yourself with mathematics if you need it. But the average child never will. So it must be reading and writing. Those are the important things. And by the time children are six, they are completely educated and then they can educate themselves. The library will be the place where they grow up.
What if there was a way for parents to obtain age-appropriate reading material for their children at a very affordable cost?
Suppose we nationally produced different series of books — picture books, alphabet books, then word books, early readers etc. Certainly, it would be difficult to decide at a national level what should be in the books, but common ground could be reached. Our existing elementary educators would know what would best merge with our education systems already in place. We’d have a massive economy of scale producing these materials, and they could be distributed through the schools.
This seems like it wins in several ways: Easier for the parents, more children exposed to reading and exposed sooner, and more parent involvement with their child’s education. Furthermore, the private sector could produce side tracks (which would be available through retail, not through the schools); This would be similar material but perhaps in additional languages; Or there could be cultural and heritage specific tracks that parents could purchase if they wish.