By Meghan Santos (from the Children First Club Newsletter, firstname.lastname@example.org)
It goes without saying that literacy is essential to survival. From food labels at the supermarket to legal documents, the written word is everywhere you look. What most of us do not realize is that the illiterate represent a shocking percentage of Americans. The US Department of Education released statistics in 2009, which reveal that 32 million Americans lack proper literacy skills. Though this is a devastating and infuriating problem, there is hope. The common sense response to this would be to target early education classrooms, focusing on making sure our kindergartners and first-graders can read properly so they do not grow up to be illiterate adolescents. However, the critical period for crucial literacy skills occurs between the ages of 10 and 15. This marks early adolescence and reflects the junior high school years up to about tenth-grade.
Middle school is considered by many in the education community as the most difficult age group to teach. Teachers are not provided with concise guidelines as to how to handle their students. “Should they be treated as children or adults?” is just one of the questions educators ask themselves. However, the proper education of these adolescents is critical because it is the bridge between relatively simple “baby work” of the early education years and the more sophisticated tasks of a high school curriculum. This time period represents the deciding factor of whether a person will develop sophisticated and necessary literacy skills.
According to the book Adolescent Literacy: What Works and Why, poor readers at these grade levels are being dealt with in a manner that is counter-productive. For example, remedial or ESL students are being encouraged to do less independent reading and more reading aloud during class time. This is not helpful for the fact that when students read aloud, they are often corrected by a teacher for mispronouncing words and for other superficial literacy issues. Whereas, when students read on their own time, they are able to relax and discover their own joy in reading. Reading moves from being a burden and a source of embarrassment into an arena that nourishes discovery and learning. In addition, more advanced readers are asked more thought-provoking questions that require them to analyze the text. This is often not done for remedial students; they are deemed as not being advanced enough for this level of work. By handling the problems in this manner, all educators are doing is keeping semi-literate students, semi-literate.
This crisis has a profound impact not only on a person’s quality of life but also on society as a whole. Everybody must be educated for the progression and preservation of a successful society, and literacy is at the foundation of academics.
[According to http://www.nyc.gov, the age group of 16-18 represents 72 percent of the inmates who were charged with violent felonies at a certain medium security prison.
Greater than 50 percent of said inmates read below the sixth-grade reading level.]
Every child is deserving of a good education and society’s mistreatment of its youth- at-risk is an affront to their human rights.