The Nov. 3 N&O editorial “Reading gap” brought to the fore a major problem in our society: subpar reading skills.
The student failure rate on standardized reading tests in Durham is a staggering 41.5 percent. June Atkinson, the state superintendent of public instruction, correctly equated the problem of illiteracy to poverty. We all know that reading is essential if an individual is to survive and thrive. The days are long gone when a school dropout could get a job in a factory, the post office or a warehouse and enjoy a productive middle class life. Thousands of children who fail to learn to read today will be condemned to a life of poverty, unemployment, underemployment, welfare, food stamps, incarceration and early death.
The easy way to wash our hands of this shameful issue is to blame our schools. If children cannot read, it must be the teacher’s fault. Yes, teachers are paid to teach children to read. Children, and adults, cannot read for a variety of reasons. Some children are not ready for school. Their parents work multiple jobs, are unable to read themselves or lack access to child development programs. Many children are tired and hungry when they arrive at school. They might have a range of unmet health needs that make it difficult to focus on or value their education. Learning disabilities may go undetected or neglected in large classrooms led by teachers who did not receive the training they need to reach each and every student. The list goes on.
The dynamics of learning to read are complex. To address the many factors that play a role in illiteracy, we must all come to the table to discuss comprehensive solutions. The issues will not be resolved in one week and not by one group. We all have a roll to play. The ability to read and write is the foundation for prosperity at both individual and community levels. Literacy is a basic human right. The problems we face will not go away until we address illiteracy in a planned and systematic way.
Parents, communities and schools must work together to provide effective adult literacy programs, family literacy classes, English classes for immigrants and individualized literacy instruction in our schools. Literacy is the tool for eradicating poverty, creating equality among people, building a stronger community and empowering individuals so they can become productive contributors to society.
Executive director, Durham Literacy Center
The length limit was waived for fuller response.