Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Illiteracy

A while back a lady called me at our offices. She explained to me that she needed some help. I believe she said she was around 50 years old. She had graduated from high school, but she couldn't read. She felt like people were taking advantage of her as they helped her decipher her bills. She wanted to be able to pay her own bills, to read her own statements. She said she had attended a literacy school for a while, but she wasn't catching on and I believe she ultimately quit. Her reading level was supposedly somewhere below first grade...yet she graduated from high school!! How does that happen??

After 11 years of working at Central Dallas, what I've found is that her situation isn't as far-fetched as I once thought it was. I remember when I first started working with kids here in Dallas. An 10-year old boy used to visit my apartment frequently. We tried to work on his reading skills. I was volunteering at his elementary school at the time. I'll never forget my conversation with the Assistant Principal at the time as we discussed "John's" inability to read in 4th grade. Her statement floored me. "Maybe he's reached his prime."

His prime????!!!!

At 10 years old???!!!!

You can imagine my incredulity! This child was not mentally challenged. Yet the school had decided he had reached his "prime."

Let me give yet another example:
Several years ago when I was running our University of Values summer program, I expected the teen workers to turn in journals every day. I couldn't believe the lack of writing skills of one of the 16-year old male teachers. I showed it to one of my teacher friends. As she looked at it, she commented that his skill levels were lower than some of the 3rd graders in her special ed classes!

Unfortunately, there are depressing stories after depressing stories of children not knowing how to read.

Yes, oftentimes there are reasons.
  • Parents aren't always involved. Some are and some aren't--yet whether involved or not, some still end up with the same result of a having a child who struggles.
  • I notice that many times parents recognize their own inability to educate their child and expect the school (the "experts") to educate their child. Some parents were in the same type of school district as a child and didn't get a great education themselves. It's not an excuse, but I think that when they don't know what to do, they expect someone who does know to do it.
  • Some parents work long hours and aren't available to advocate for their child; some parents are dealing with addictions; and some parents ...well, I don't know...maybe they don't see the importance of advocating for their child.

Here's the thing, though. Regardless of what a parent does or doesn't do, a child deserves to be educated. They deserve to have that chance in life. We can sit around and talk about the parents and lament the fact that they don't do their job....OR we can begin to work toward a creative solution. I vote for the latter.

The bottom line is that children deserve to have an opportunity. And we need to be a society that makes sure that happens!

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