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Literacy And Your Child -- Your Child's Life Can Be Ruined If They Can't Read Well

It may seem obvious to many people why literacy is so important in our technologically advanced society. However, many parents may not fully realize the emotional pain and life-long damage illiteracy can cause their children. Literacy, the ability to read well, is the foundation of children's education.

If children can't read well, every subject they try to learn will frustrate them. If they can't read math, history, or science textbooks, if they stumble over the words, they will soon give up reading out of frustration. Asking children who are poor readers to study these subjects is like asking them to climb a rope with one arm.

Kids learn to read in their most formative years, which is why reading can profoundly affect their self-esteem. When children learn to read, they also start learning how to think abstractly, because words convey ideas and relationships between ideas. How well they read therefore affects children's feelings about their ability to learn. This in turn affects how kids feel about themselves generally whether a child thinks he or she is stupid or bright. Children who struggle with reading often blame themselves and feel ashamed of themselves.

As Donald L. Nathanson, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College noted: 'First reading itself, and then the whole education process, becomes so imbued with, stuffed with, amplified, magnified by shame that children can develop an aversion to everything that is education."

Often, poor readers will struggle just to graduate from high school. They can lose general confidence in themselves, and therefore the confidence to try for college or pursue a career. Their job opportunities can dry up. Their poor reading skills and low self-confidence can strangle their ability to earn money. They can struggle financially their whole lives. If they marry and have children, they can struggle even more.

Life for illiterate adults can easily degenerate into misery, poverty, failure, and hopelessness. According to a 1992 study by the National Institute for Literacy, '43 % of Americans with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty and 70 % have no job or a part-time job. Only 5% of Americans with strong literacy skills live in poverty.'

As Dr. Grover Whitehurst, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said, 'Reading is absolutely fundamental. It's almost trite to say that. But in our society, the inability to be fluent consigns children to failure in school and consigns adults to the lowest strata of job and life opportunities.'

By the 1850s, before we had compulsory, government-controlled public schools, child and adult literacy rates averaged over 90 percent, making illiteracy rates less than 10 percent. By 1850, literacy rates in Massachusetts and other New England States, for both men and women, was close to 97 percent. This was before Massachusetts created the first compulsory public-school system in America in 1852. What is literacy like in our public schools today?

In 1995, a student teacher for a fifth-grade class in Minneapolis wrote the following letter to the local newspaper: "... I was told [that] children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, if, in, is, it, have, he, home, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?"

In 2002, the New York State Education Department's annual report on the latest reading and math scores for public school students found:

- 90 percent of middle schools failed to meet New York State minimum standards for math and English exam scores.

- 65 percent of elementary schools flunked the minimum standards.

- 84 percent of high schools failed to meet the minimum state standards.

- More than half of New York City's black and hispanic elementary school students failed the state's English and math exams. About 30 percent of white and asian-american students failed to achieve the minimum English test scores.

- The results for eighth grade students were even worse. Here, 75 percent of black and hispanic students flunked both the English and the math tests. About 50 percent of white and Asian-American eighth graders failed the tests. These illiteracy rates are now common in public schools across America, not just in New York City.

In short,as shown by the New York State Education Department's annual report and other studies, student illiteracy rates in many public schools range from 30 to 75 percent. This is an education horror story.

That is what illiteracy can mean, what it does mean for millions of public-school children who can barely read. Does any parent want this kind of future for his or her children? I argue in my book, "Public Schools, Public Menace" that our public school system is the primary cause of this tragic illiteracy, and one reason why these schools are a menace to our children.

A great movie to see that shows the tragic consequences of illiteracy is "Stanley and Iris" with Robert DeNiro and Jane Fonda. After you see this movie, you might think twice about keeping your children in public schools.

About the Author
Joel Turtel is an education policy analyst. He is also the author of "The Welfare State: No Mercy For The Middle Class." Contact Information:
Website: http://www.mykidsdeservebetter.com, Email: lbooksusa@aol.com, Phone: 718-447-7348, Article Copyrighted 2005 by Joel Turtel.


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