I can only speak from my own experience, but every child in my homeschool group reads for pleasure. ... It is definitely a culture that cultivates the intellectual love of reading and awareness of books.
I'm becoming more and more interested in the potential of homeschooling.
Perhaps that is because they are allowed to read what they want - including current popular fiction. No 'reading books full of boring ol stories no one wants to read' are used with long droning busy work of explaining the symbols or WHATEVER it is that I used to have to do that made reading my least favorite class.
True, especially at first. My father applies a related theory in his guitar school... from day one he took the approach of asking students for songs they wanted to play. He'd figure the songs out and teach them *that* song, unless it really was just insanely hard (sorry kids, you probly can't play Eruption right off the bat). He's convinced that the retention rate is higher. Serious students will eventually learn the scales on their own. I expect the analogue to reading, particularly reading fiction, is extremely close.
As far as teachers' losing their respect, I'd have to wonder if that is because the market on information is saturated. :) Lower level teachers now have competition from knowlegeable parents and siblings, Leap Frog, tv programs and documentaries, Internet articles, Cosmeo, books, accessible libraries, and even You Tube.
I think this attitude is popular, and that may cause the result you indicate, but I don't think that should be tolerated particularly. There's a vast gulf between information and knowledge. A good teacher helps you convert the former into the latter. In particular, the best teachers are able to find different ways to do that for different types of student. Simply presenting material is a low yield method for "education" in my book.
I think the rare jewel teacher with the really incredible knowlege and gift for inspriation and wonder will always be well respected, sought out, and well compensated.
Assuming they bother to take up teaching in the first place. I imagine the majority of individuals in the best position to be that kind of educator opt for more lucrative career paths. Thus, you get the small portion of smart, inspirational, motivated folks that *also* just can't imagine doing anything but teach, in addition to a lot of folks with passion, but limited skill, or skill in some subject area, but no particular passion for teaching.
I absolutely think that increasing teacher salaries would attract more of the right kind of people to the field, and result in a better education for the students.
Perhaps I am just being the devil's advocate here, but I don't think more funding is going to help anyone learn to read, unless it actually buys a child a book they WANT to read.
This statement does expose another point which is that the best teachers in the world won't make a difference if they're hamstrung by shitty or backwards curricula, hounded by conservative/liberal parents and community leaders, etc.
It's for this last reason among others that I'm most pessimistic about the American educational system. I, perhaps obviously, have a progressive and liberal viewpoint on what education should be. If I have kids someday, it will bother me for their education to be stifled by the lowest-common-denominator forced upon them by the political realities of public education. Of course, maybe dealing with that stuff is part of their education too. It's not simple, certainly.
RE: Reading habits dropping