WHERE DOES LITERACY COME FROM? A grandmothers letter to the Post shows us where reading skills come from: // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2005
WHERE DOES LITERACY COME FROM: On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a front-page, Style-section story about ostentatious bat and bar mitzvahs. Today, the Post runs a set of letters complaining about the articles focus. One of the letters caught our eye. We reprint that missive in full:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (12/17/05):We agree—that is a story worth telling. This child is lucky to have this grandmother. For ourselves, we were struck by the part of the story which we have highlighted above.
How did this child prepare for her bat mitzvah? Among other things, were told this: She studied the Book of Psalms for a year with her mother and wrote a lovely explanation of what she had learned. In this passage, we get a look at where a childs literacy comes from.
As (pretty much) everyone knows, children learn to read by having a wealth of reading experiences. Some of these experiences take place in schools—but many of these experiences take place in the home. When this child studied the Book of Psalms for a year with her mother, she wasnt just getting an education in her familys religious tradition. She was also learning to read, in a way that children from high-literacy backgrounds often do without thinking about it.
Children from lower-literacy backgrounds may not get this same wealth of experience. Their loving parents may not realize the value of reading in the home. With this in mind, the Posts William Raspberry has started a program in his home town (Okolona, Mississippi) designed to improve childrens reading readiness (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/12/05). In part, the program involves parent-child interactions which predate reading itself:
RASPBERRY (11/7/05): "Mr. Raspberry! Mr. Raspberry! I have something to tell you," the young woman called as she caught up to me during a break in the Baby Steps program a week ago. Then, grinning with delight, she told me.To read the full column, click here.
Raspberrys effort deserves full attention; well try to follow it in the new year. But remember—deserving children from low-literacy backgrounds must be served in their schools as well as at home. Many children are years below traditional grade level in reading by the time of the fourth or fifth grades. Their schools must be able to provide them with textbooks and other reading materials which they can actually read and learn from (and enjoy). Absent such meaningful reading experience, pious talk about high expectations is a cover for school system breakdown. In our experience, these school system breakdowns have been widespread—indeed, ubiquitous—over the past forty years.
Children need to read in the home. But they also need to read—voraciously—in their schools. Are children from low-literacy backgrounds being provided with reading experiences in public schools? In the new year, well watch Raspberrys program unfold—and well also try to answer that important, complementary question.
HOW THE RICH GET RICHER: As we all know, parents from high-literacy backgrounds routinely give their children reading experiences in the home. Other kids, who may lack this background, are at a large disadvantage in school, right from the day they start kindergarten. Sometimes, though, parents may over-reach. On Thursday, the New York Times described one possible case. You know what to do—just click here.