They Can, but They Don't. - National Council of Teachers of English
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They Can, but They Don’t.

This post is written by member Mark Condon. 

markcondonI read this morning in Lu Ann McNabb’s NCTE blog about an effort in Michigan to sue the governor and state educational officials. The plaintiffs argue that the governor and the state’s education officials had “denied students their constitutional right to literacy.”

The habits, skill sets, and inclination needed to take on the challenges in Lifelong Learning is the overarching goal of the good education. That’s at least the spirit to which so many Americans pay lip service. That grand set of human capabilities, not a test score above a certain number, really should be our target.

 Literacy is then the foundation for children building such a life of learning and participation in the personal, civic and academic issues of their times. Educating children in such a way that kids drop-out or grad-out without being fully and actively literate is arguably a breach of contract between the schools and the populations they claim to serve.

Let’s be clear. Teaching reading and writing, which is what we do, are not the same as teaching children TO READ and TO WRITE. To read and write are to fully embrace all of the possibilities of literacy and actually and actively DO personally fulfilling reading and writing. So, patting ourselves on the back for educating children when so few continue to read and grow in breadth and depth of understanding of the complexities of life on earth after their formal schooling has ended is self-delusion.

We place shackles on teachers, requiring them to spend all their time teaching children reading and writing. We do this without even bring up the expectation that we’ll teach the children TO READ or TO WRITE, meaning to fully understand the WHY of literacy. To read and write is to actively inquire, to pursue answers to their own questions throughout life, and then to proudly share their discoveries and perspectives. It seems that even once we establish that a child can read and write, we utterly disregard whether the child is inclined to ever do so, resulting in a growing population of aliterates.

They could if they wanted to. They just don’t. We call that an education?

I’m not sure that declaring literacy to be an inalienable right is the answer to getting out of the corner into which we’ve painted ourselves, but it might be a start.

Mark Condon has classroom experience in elementary, middle and high schools. He has prepared new teachers and reading specialists for 31 years at the University of Louisville. Mark has consulted in Malawi and South Africa and with five native American tribes’ schools. He works with bilingual translators creating narrations of English books for the free, online Unite for Literacy library of picture books for new readers.