I spent the better part of a morning reading comments and posts on a particular Facebook page debating religion and religious issues. I must say, if ignorance is bliss, then Facebook MUST be the happiest place on earth! I was struck not only by the sheer ignorance of logic with which a lot of people spout off, but also at the inconceivable lack of any ability to write a cogent, grammatically accurate statement. But, let’s be honest. This is not a Facebook, or email issue. This is a reality in much of our country.
If we are to believe any of the statistics from literacy studies, then we must recognize that:
- 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
- More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
- Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.
- 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels
- 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts
- 16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.
Reading and writing are simply fundamental to the success of the individual, but also to the nation as a whole. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher, placing the cost of low health literacy to the U.S. economy in the range of $106 billion to $238 billion annually.
“Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.” -Bertrand Russell
Two things I have learned about teaching since I began decades ago. First, more is caught than taught. We as humans are imitators of each other. The educational system is full of children imitating our teachers. IN fact, I will go so far as to say that each of us altered our personality or our future in response to the impact of a teacher, be it positive or negative.
The second one I borrow from speaker Chip Ingram. We cannot impart what we do not possess. It is really straightforward and succinct. If you do not know how to add and subtract, then it is impossible to teach someone to add and subtract. These two principles are at work in education more than any federal, state, or local education authority would like to admit. We want to believe that we can prop up the educational system my adopting standards and leveraging test scores. We will continue to adopt sets of standards until we simply run out of standards to adopt.
When I first started in education decades ago, I worked under the leadership of a tenacious, energetic, and creative administrator. There was no limit to what she would do to meet the physical, social, and intellectual needs of the children under her. Any given Saturday you could find her laboring at the school, proofing, printing, painting, planting. I really can only make one criticism of her: she couldn’t speak proper English. I always noticed when she would say, “We done did…”, “We‘ve went…,” “I’ve did…”.
One doesn’t have to walk far into a school building to hear it. Part of the problem with illiteracy is that the functionally illiterate are trying to teach children to become illiterate. In one local school building you can see it written on a sign: “Look what your children done!” A teacher cannot impart to a child what they do not possess. It would be interesting to see how teachers fared on state and nationally normed reference tests. Maybe one reason kids do so unbelievably poorly in certain schools is because the teaching staff does not possess very skills they are trying to impart.
Our country has attempted top-down education reform for generations. We have created a self-perpetuating system wherein weak administrators cover for the failures of weak teachers, who are protected by powerful private unions, making real change virtually impossible. State standards, common core standards, curriculum and textbook selections, and high stakes exams matter very little in a system with excellent teachers at the helm of every classroom. Even our government leaders recognize the value of private education where teacher selection is concerned. Despite the fact that our federal government has not supported vouchers and school choice for the general public, half of our congress sends their children to private schools, including our own president. The last president to send their child to public school was Jimmy Carter who ultimately enrolled her in a private school. And it is not just Washington! Governors and state representative the nation over turn to private education for their own children.
In reality, the teacher that is placed in the classroom today will be what America looks like tomorrow. To put it scripturally: “When a child is fully trained, he will be just like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Maybe governors and senators, and elected officials should hire teachers. They could ask themselves, “Do I want my own children to become the teacher in front of me?” If they answer ‘no’ to that question, then don’t force us less-fortunate vassals to endure them either!