TBT Recollections of a High School Counselor: Why Johnny Still Can’t Read

The charismatic man in the Armani suit stood at the podium and spoke about fixing the economy and creating jobs and ending war. And the people listened. He then spoke about improving the state of education and proclaimed “Education is the key to success!” And the crowd roared in agreement especially those present who were functionally illiterate. Everyone wanted their children to receive a better education.” Realizing he had touched on a topic near and dear to them he continued,”It is the right of all individuals, the rich and poor alike, to receive a free and comprehensive education!”  And they roared even louder!  The candidate continued to sing the praises of education a few minutes longer then ended his speech with the declaration “We must educate the children, they are our future!” And the crowd rose to their feet and roared yet again. 

As the cheering died away, and the men on the platform shook hands and patted one another on the back, the people turned and went their separate ways and all the fervor and enthusiasm went away with them. And the old man who had his hand raised for much of the speech was ignored to the end. Frustrated, he too walked slowly away. He understood the importance of education and why it should be a priority, and had simply wanted to ask the candidate how it was to be done. How every child could be educated successfully?

Time passed and soon the election was over and the Armani man won! And the people happily waited for the changes the Armani man had promised, but nothing changed, nothing changed  at all. Johnny still couldn’t read and neither could several of his classmates. So much for political promises…

The call to educate the masses has been around for ages  and can be found in the history of the ancient Greeks and even in the Torah. The education of the masses has also long been a salient rallying point in most revolutions or working class movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Progress was made in the area of education but as is the case today, the have’s were still much better educated than the have not‘s.

SHCOOL-1-300x203Across the country the American worker, the common laborer could ill afford to send their children to school, until the 1840’s most schools were private and required tuition, but even with the advent of free public schools, many of these working class families had to rely on the work of their children  to make ends meet. Farmers, ranchers and other trades needed their children to help with chores and bringing in crops or in caring of the animals. If the children were lucky they might attend Sunday school on occasion.

Yes the education of the masses though an incredible concept, is not easily accomplished. Even in today’s 21st century technological society, there are more uneducated people than you may realize. When I talk about uneducated people I am referring to those people who are illiterate or function at a below normal range. So the problem isn’t about providing an education for the opportunity is there, no the problem is about learning. The masses cannot be educated unless they themselves want to be educated and it seems that they do not.

why_johnny_can't_readAccording to the The U.S. Dept. of Education approximately 14 million Americans about 1 in 7 are “illiterate” and can’t read anything more difficult than a child’s picture book. Another 14% or so of the nation’s populous have a “below basic” literacy level, meaning they have only the most simple and concrete literacy skills. They are able to identify information in short, commonplace prose texts, locate easily identifiable information and following written instructions in simple documents.  29% possess “basic” reading skills and can perform simple and everyday literacy activities and are able to read and understand information in short, commonplace prose texts and simple documents. The folks in the “below basic” and ‘basic’ groups have great difficulty reading a daily newspaper. This my friends is happening in America, the land of opportunity and public education. And it’s not getting any better, fact is, it’s getting worse.

The most recent statistics show that 33% of 4th grade public school students are at or below the “basic” level and 26% of 8th graders performed at or below the “basic” level as well. At the high school level more than 19% of recent graduates of urban high schools read at less than a sixth grade level and more than a million of those, can’t read above the third grade level. How about this one, a staggering 85% of juveniles who are arrested and brought before the courts are functionally illiterate. That means that their reading and writing skills are not good enough to manage a job or daily living that requires reading or writing skills beyond a basic level. 60% of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate and those numbers continue to grow. There are a whole lot of facts and stats that still don’t explain why Johnny can’t read only that there are a hell of a lot of Johnny’s.

9780060910310Illiteracy is our greatest curse. You can blame it on the school system, you can blame it on the teachers, they should shoulder some of the responsibility, but not all of it. A number of students who go to those school in those district with the God-awful test scores, still come away with an education. They go on to college and are successful. Several students who have suffered at the hands of piss poor teachers who can be found in even the best of schools  still find a way to learn and succeed. So who should really be blamed for the high illiteracy rate? I’d say we start looking at the students that’s who, and the parents who are apparently too damn busy to do their part.

The school system is not responsible for your children’s failure. If you are the type of parent who believes the responsibility is all on the school and teachers then you are to blame for your son or daughters failings. Educating a child is a collaborative effort. Schools and teachers provide the means, and direction during the school day, but once they are at home you assume the responsibility. You must continue the effort to educate that is started in the classroom. You have to teach your children that reading is important. Provide a designated learning space for your children, be there to answer questions and help when you can, don ‘t simply ask them if homework is done, physically look at it to make sure it’s done. And for Godsake insist that they read.

Why_Johnny_Cant_ReadRemember it doesn’t matter what they read, novels, children’s books, comic books, sports magazines, gaming magazines anything will do! And have them read aloud. Have them read to you, younger siblings or even the dog will do. And read to them! Good readers are better learners. Most of all, hold your student accountable. If their grades are low turn off their TV or computer, take away their phones or ipods, keep them from seeing their friends and going out. These things are privileges not rights. They should be earned.

‘The successful student is one who has a support team consisting of teachers, parents counselors and administrators working together to ensure your student’s success.Parents must take responsibility and be a part of the team. The illiteracy rate is ridiculously out of control. The only way that is going to change is with your help. Parents need to form a partnership with schools and teachers and work together to change students attitudes about education. Communication is crucial.

Many of today’s student’s just don’t see the value of education and view the school day as a waste of time. This attitude has got to change. They’re tired, bored, and sick of school. Wait until they  go to work! Without an education they’ll hate their jobs as well. School is about learning. Teacher’s are there to educate. They are not entertainers, although some try to be in order to make a connection with students, but that is not their role in your education. Their job is to provide students with learning opportunities and hopefully spark their interests. A good teacher does just that. A good administrator makes sure that a teacher is doing their job. You need to do yours. It’s too bad there is no one at home making sure that you, the parents are doing yours. Teachers get penalized for low test scores and grades, parents get angry and call for teacher’s jobs, but do nothing at home to help the cause. We all have a part to play in helping Johnny learn to read and until we all actively participate in the process Johnny won’t be reading anytime soon. And if he’s unable to read, he’ll be unable to write or do well in any other subject. Everything is reliant on the ability to read and to comprehend what’s been read.

It doesn’t matter how much legislation is passed to help improve schools, if the government truly wants “No Child Left Behind” then they better find a way to make the process a student, teacher, parent collaboration. Teacher requirements, testing and penalties is not the answer. “You can lead a horse to water, but you cant make them drink!”  Until student’s change their attitudes about education and parents learn to man up and shoulder their educational responsibilities things will continue as is, change will never happen. Remember, when it comes to education, “Attitude isn’t everything, it’s the only thing…”

Just saying,

JS

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