Have your children read to you lately?
By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
Trice Edney Newswire
While challenging, I can proudly report that I find my position as National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women thoroughly rewarding. I can think of no greater responsibility or reward than leading women across the nation to the goal of empowering women of color and assisting in efforts designed to improve the quality of life for women and their families. Chief among our efforts are programs and initiatives for academic and intellectual enrichment of youth. An overview of our programs and initiatives can be found at our website: www.nationalcongressbw.org.
As we expand our engagement with youth, we realize unsettling deficiencies in the academic development of many of them. Among the most unsettling is the inability of far too many to read at the appropriate grade level. More unconscionable than unsettling are the number of students who advance to middle and high school with reading grade-level equivalences mired at elementary levels.
It should be clearly understood that I do not speak of those who are limited by genuine learning disabilities. I refer to those students who have been systemically victimized by inadequate schools or by the parental failure to hold students responsible for practicing the skills that promote and enhance reading development. Wherever the fault, at some level, those who have been charged with “minding the store” have been derelict in their duties.
As a former teacher, I can claim experience in elementary, middle school, high school and collegiate education. I have never known a student to achieve real academic success without grade-equivalent mastery of reading skills. I should have to remind no one that reading is the gateway to other knowledge and that education is the best predictor of success in life. The old axiom that “Reading is Fundamental” is more meaningful today than when we first heard that admonition.
In my interaction with youth, I’m often appalled by what has been called «their reading ability.» As they “read,” many can navigate the recitation of words in their correct order, but fewer among them can decode or interpret the intent of the writer, or the message that the writer wishes to convey. For many during oral reading, as quickly as words cross their lips, these same words are forgotten or soon become remnants of the school day. Too often, they fall, irretrievably, into the pit of a distant memory or of some “insignificant” school-time event. In effect, these students are word speakers instead of real readers.
Unfortunately, greater potential seems to exist for these word speakers than for those lacking grade-level vocabulary skills. Words whose meanings seem obvious to us and which seem grade-level appropriate for our students, simply have little or no meaning for those who struggle to sound them out. If there’s no frame of reference, there’s little hope that «challenged readers» will be able to place understanding or value on the words creating their frustration. Instead of choosing to expand their vocabularies, many opt to skip over these challenging words. Consequences of this technique soon become apparent in student performance.
Although there’s a direct link between academic failure and incarceration, there’re few examples of success after prison. Malcolm X is legend for educating himself in prison. It’s said that among the many books he read in prison, the dictionary held a special place. As his knowledge of words increased, his ability to expand his ideas and critical thinking skills increased proportionally. Self-taught, he transformed himself from prisoner to the great leader and orator who was admired around the world.
Malcolm was the exception. We cannot accept that prison will become the educator of our youth. A strong “first step” in solving this problem rests squarely with a concerned parent or guardian.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women. She can be reached at 202.678.6788 or www.nationalcongressbw.org