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Y can't Georgie read? (sorry, I'm weak.)
March 20, 2007 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Nearly 36 percent of adults in Washington D.C. are functionally illiterate, compared with a 21% national average. More and more American adults are lacking basic reading and writing skills. Meanwhile, among some groups, adolescent illiteracy is estimated to be as high as 50%. (Is text messaging to blame? Looks like maybe not.)
posted by miss lynnster (70 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Oh LORD I hope my grammar was okay... last thing I need is to seem illiterate on a post about illiteracy.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:44 PM on March 20, 2007


Reading is really boring compared to playing an XBox 360.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 8:57 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's this hilarious pro-DC voting rights campaign poster around town at bus stops and on the metro that shows a picture of a classroom and the caption reads "Trusted with your children but not with a vote." Whether or not DC deserves a congressman is neither here nor there, but suffice to say when you consistently have a one of the top five worst school districts in the country and 36% of all adults are functionally illiterate -- that's a very bad ad.
posted by Heminator at 9:09 PM on March 20, 2007


"I think we often don't give kids enough credit with their control over language," says Eric Paulson, associate professor of literary education at the University of Cincinnati. "They can text ‘IMHO' on their cell phones, write ‘my own opinion is' in a school essay, and read ‘it is my belief that your scar hurts when Lord Voldemort is near you' without getting discombobulated."
What is this, 1993? Who texts "IMHO"? are these kids posting to USENET on their cellphones, and if they were aren't they all to vain these days to use the diminutive form?

This guy needs to realize he stopped being Hip in 2002.
posted by delmoi at 9:16 PM on March 20, 2007


Is our adults learning?
posted by amyms at 9:29 PM on March 20, 2007


And, this is news?

From a city that twice elected Marion Barry as Mayor. This is from his website: "Barry decided not to run for reelection after a misdemeanor drug conviction in 1990."

From a city that in 2006 was #2 in per student expenditures ( http://www.census.gov/mp/www/cpu/fact_of_the_day/006726.html )
posted by davebarnes at 9:36 PM on March 20, 2007


From the FPP's third link: "There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that many of our public school teachers are themselves woefully under-educated. In 1983, for example, school teachers in Houston, Texas were required to take a competency test. More than 60 percent of the teachers failed the reading part of the test. Forty-six percent failed the math section while 26 percent could not pass the writing exam. As if this weren't bad enough, 763 of the more than 3,000 teachers taking the test cheated."

Maybe one of those who cheated and still failed was my middle school English teacher in Baltimore in the mid-1970s. We used to have fun correcting her grammar, spelling and punctuation. In 7th grade.

Of course that was easier than learning basic algebra, something I know I still don't know. The math teacher was competent, but I wasn't.
posted by davy at 9:49 PM on March 20, 2007


What is this, 1993? Who texts "IMHO"?

I blame their illiteracy on too much "Zero Wing" down at the arcade.

Take off every zig for great stale pop culture references.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:54 PM on March 20, 2007


To be fair, the results are skewed towards illiteracy in DC because of the disproportionate amount of politicians there.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:56 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wonder what role illegal immigration plays in illiteracy rates? You can't blame the schools if the people who are illiterate (in English, at least) didn't go to them.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:59 PM on March 20, 2007


From the last link in the FPP:
Switching from a language appropriate for a text message to a linguistic mode more appropriate for addressing a teacher or writing an essay is a practice young people can easily be comfortable with.

I guess that must be why I get first-year students writing things like "24/7" in essays. Or ending their e-mails to me with "C U in class!"
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:06 PM on March 20, 2007


Uh, Mitrovarr, why should "legal" immigrants' illiteracy rates be any different? You think a green card conveys proficiency how?
posted by davy at 10:07 PM on March 20, 2007


davy: Uh, Mitrovarr, why should "legal" immigrants' illiteracy rates be any different? You think a green card conveys proficiency how?

Well, we can always correct the surveys for legal immigrants (since we know how many there are.) Also, I suspect legal immigrants in general prepare more for entering the country, and learning the language helps in the immigration process.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:13 PM on March 20, 2007


There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that many of our public school teachers are themselves woefully under-educated.

It's because you aren't paying them enough. Competent people can get far better jobs with far less grief for far more money. People who are qualified and love teaching get jaded and leave for greener pastures even if they have to abandon their love of educating children.

"No Child Left Behind."

How could anyone (unless they where chronically undereducated - on preview, I can add 'miseducated') not understand the outcome for this decision?

If primary and secondary education was a journey and everyone had to journey together - then what if some people in the group had problems tying their bloody shoestrings together?!

Nobody ever gets out of the fucking house because they're trying to teach the few how to tie their bloody shoelaces together and they can't leave as a group.

Yeah, no child gets left behind - but that's holding back every other child who could bloody well tie their shoestrings before they ever went to school.
posted by porpoise at 10:24 PM on March 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think there should be "travel around Washington D.C. day" for all politicians. They could learn a lot about problems in our whole nation if they got out of their limos now and then.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:29 PM on March 20, 2007


Can I get a witness that so-called "functional illiteracy" is not illiteracy? Calling a person "functionally illiterate" does not mean he cannot read; it means, according to someone, that he cannot read well -- that he "has trouble doing such things as comprehending bus schedules, reading maps and filling out job applications." What does that mean? Is that quantifiable? If this is functional illiteracy, how would stupidity manifest?

In the sub-middle classes, stupidity is functional illiteracy; in higher tax brackets, it is a learning disorder.

Here's an even more shocking statistic: in Washington, DC today, fully 50% of all residents are below average in reading comprehension, basic math skills, and even... intelligence as measured by standardized tests! The system has failed. The sky is falling, yo.

A conservative friend sent me this article in support of his argument that K-12 education should be privatized. I'm just sayin'.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:31 PM on March 20, 2007


Nited Staaaates uff Muuu'oons!
posted by homodigitalis at 10:32 PM on March 20, 2007


lol usa
posted by blacklite at 10:36 PM on March 20, 2007


i no hw to red an spel gud an ppl no wut i men wen i tel ppl to stfu

/scarcsm

Lowering standards equates to flying a flag at half mast.
posted by Revvy at 11:08 PM on March 20, 2007


There's so much here, I don't know where to start.

Only 8 percent of District residents with the lowest literacy skills get the remedial assistance they need

So, the help actually gets to less than 1 in 10 of the people that need it. Where does the money get spent, then, if it's not helping the people?

But the report also found that most of the federal and local resources to promote literacy were concentrated in Wards 1 and 4, where the illiteracy rates were about 42 percent.

Again, methinks there is mismanagment. In the federal government. Who'd a thunk it?

The State of Adult Literacy Report, scheduled to be delivered to the mayor and D.C. Council members today, found that nearly 36 percent, or 170,000, of the District's residents are functionally illiterate, compared with 21 percent nationally.

Adults who have trouble doing such things as comprehending bus schedules, reading maps and filling out job applications are considered functionally illiterate.


So, 1 in 5 adults nationally cannot read a bus schedule.

Leslie Hines, 25, dropped out of middle school

How exactly does one drop out of middle school? Did he drop out, or get kicked out?
posted by frogan at 11:14 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wonder what role illegal immigration plays in illiteracy rates? You can't blame the schools if the people who are illiterate (in English, at least) didn't go to them.

Being literate means you can read or write, no language specified.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:19 PM on March 20, 2007


not "or", "and". It's been a while since I last watched Conjunction Junction.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:20 PM on March 20, 2007


Two things will make you a good reader and writer: (1) reading a lot; (2) writing a lot. Neither is avoidable, and the catch is, unless you do them for pleasure, you will never gain any significant skill. Reading will give you an understanding of spelling and grammar that you will then apply as a writer.

A conservative friend sent me this article in support of his argument that K-12 education should be privatized. I'm just sayin'.

I have no doubt that privatization would work the wonders for education that it has worked for prisons, hospitals, electricity suppliers and military support.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:34 PM on March 20, 2007 [3 favorites]


In case someone missed it the first time:
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that many of our public school teachers are themselves woefully under-educated.

It's because you aren't paying them enough. Competent people can get far better jobs with far less grief for far more money. People who are qualified and love teaching get jaded and leave for greener pastures even if they have to abandon their love of educating children.
If you want good schools turning out kids who can read and write and balance a check book and name the last five presidents and so on, you have to raise taxes enough to pay teachers enough to attract good people to the profession. People who could be the best teachers in the world instead become fat desk jockeys at horrible corporations that give them low-stress positions for several times more money than they'd get for being a teacher.
posted by pracowity at 1:15 AM on March 21, 2007


Yeah, no child gets left behind

Porpoise, that's kinda funny that you're saying that. I was having a conversation a couple weeks ago, which I forgot until you reminded me, in which I realized a simple truth.

"No Child Left Behind" translates to "No Child Gets Ahead."
posted by Malor at 1:34 AM on March 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


become fat desk jockeys at horrible corporations

A good teacher would have advised you to leave out the snide little digs at capitalism and fat people since they distract from your argument and weaken you credibility.
posted by srboisvert at 2:20 AM on March 21, 2007


If you want good schools turning out kids who can read and write and balance a check book and name the last five presidents and so on, you have to raise taxes enough to pay teachers enough to attract good people to the profession.

Except it's not that simple. School districts are strange beasts, and are primarily funded locally, rather than at the state or federal level. This is why you have wonderful schools in rich suburbs, and lousy schools in poor areas-- the school's income is based on the wealth of the surrounding community. Raising taxes on people who are in poverty doesn't really solve anything. (Providing national wage guidelines for teachers and federal funding to help districts make those wages might work, but hoo boy, good luck with that can of worms.)
posted by phooky at 4:25 AM on March 21, 2007


I think the teacher pay thing might be a truism that's not so true. People I know who are teachers don't quit because they are underpaid; they quit because the institutions and administrations are so broken that they feel like no matter what they do they are going to be utterly ineffective. There's a long history of politics, corruption, and bullshit that takes place on the administrative level in schools. I'm not sure how to fix it, but I am pretty sure NCLB is not the way.

(Anecdote: my father is a school counselor in a very poor area. The kids have a lot of problems-- abuse, drugs, etc. For the past month he hasn't been allowed to see most of the kids because they're too busy drilling for tests. Now, is that a long-term solution for anything?)
posted by miss tea at 5:29 AM on March 21, 2007


Can someone come over tonight and read me this article? Thanks!
posted by inigo2 at 6:20 AM on March 21, 2007


"Trusted with your children but not with a vote."

At first I thought they were talking about teachers who are felons.
posted by smackfu at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2007


There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that many of our public school teachers are themselves woefully under-educated.

It's because you aren't paying them enough.


That is completely and utterly wrong. The average DC public schoolteacher makes $63,000 a year. That's more than some private school teachers in the city make.

The problem is that these idiots have the audacity to hold themselves out as teachers, and no one in the system stops them. Why? Because smart teachers agitate. They resist dumb programs. They complain. And they'll start asking why they aren't getting money that was earmarked for them.

If you want to know where all the DC school money is going, take a look at where school board members live and the cars they drive. DC is corrupt. The best thing DC could do for its kids would be to raze the city and start over.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:27 AM on March 21, 2007


Every time I've seen somebody tie their shoelaces together, they've fallen on their face when they tried to walk.

This happened regardless of whether there was blood on the laces or not.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:35 AM on March 21, 2007


Some numbers:
for 2003-04, California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia were estimated to be the highest-ranking states in teacher pay.

and

DC was third in the nation for public school district spending, at $12,801 student.


For a just a bit more than that, they could send all public students to private schools, and they'd get a dramatically superior education.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:46 AM on March 21, 2007


How exactly does one drop out of middle school?

By being old enough to drop out. I knew a guy that dropped out in the 8th grade, he was 16. It happens.
posted by MikeMc at 7:09 AM on March 21, 2007


Frankly, I think it would be cheaper to leave some kids behind, while providing generous welfare and work opportunities for people who don't get a good education. A certain segment of the population is just never going to be productive.
posted by delmoi at 7:50 AM on March 21, 2007


Every time I've seen somebody tie their shoelaces together, they've fallen on their face when they tried to walk.

This happened regardless of whether there was blood on the laces or not.


What on earth is that supposed to mean?
posted by delmoi at 7:52 AM on March 21, 2007


If you want good schools turning out kids who can read and write and balance a check book and name the last five presidents...

I don't care if someone can name the last five presidents. What I'd love to see is the schools producing people who can think. Problem solving skills. The ability to look at a problem, come up with a method of approaching it, and apply it. (Extra credit if you only change one variable at a time and keep track of your results.)

Instead we have a system devoted to rote memorization and end-of-grade standardized tests. If you can regurgitate information, you're golden. Understanding is not necessary or even particularly helpful.

The writing I see out of young people makes me wince. But the blank looks I get when trying to explain how to troubleshoot an issue makes me fear for the future.
posted by bitmage at 7:53 AM on March 21, 2007


What on earth is that supposed to mean?

It's a response to this:
If primary and secondary education was a journey and everyone had to journey together - then what if some people in the group had problems tying their bloody shoestrings together?!

Which I guess you didn't read.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:56 AM on March 21, 2007


I can't read a bus schedule, but that's because METRO's info design sucks.
posted by Mick at 8:19 AM on March 21, 2007


Many many moons ago, my financial advisor in college looked at my prospects after college and suggested I go into teaching. I said no. I had many reasons but predominant among them was I didn't consider myself smart enough to teach young people what I knew. I'm now... rethinking that hypothesis. Considering who they do hire to teach young people, I would have been in good company, but it's not like they're gods or anything.

Too late now. No use crying over spilt milk. I guess we live and learn.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:37 AM on March 21, 2007


...I will say this though, This guy can teach, and I begrudgingly admire that guy. Wish I could go back in time and slap some sense into myself. I shoulda done it. I certainly couldn't have made it any worse than it is. Maybe I woulda helped the teaching industry be a little better.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:44 AM on March 21, 2007


Illiteracy doesn't start in schools, it starts at home. Unfortunately, many of these kids come from homes that don't encourage school. That's a bigger problem, and that's what burns out teachers. Schools can only do so much (though indeed they do less when driven by poor policy). That's also a large reason why schools in more affluent districts do better - the children come from families that encourge and/or demand a certain level of performance in schools.
posted by taliaferro at 9:03 AM on March 21, 2007


It's not the funding of schools. I'm for more funding, but the truth is that many poor areas have higher funding per student, and still have more literacy problems.

The biggest problem for schools is educational segregation. When you have economically segregated schools, that means you are so much more likely to concentrate children whose parents themselves have less education and are less equipted to either prepare their children for school or to fight for their children's education.

Parents have so much influence both on how prepared their children are for school, but also on how much they demand from that school. It's not that lower-class parents don't care about their children - but they have less time, and less skill to bring to negotiating with the school. Arguing with an incompetent teacher is a hell of a lot more difficult when you lack a high school diploma. Your language, your clothes scream "lower class" and "uneducated" and they give you less respect than they give educated parents.

Through my marriage, I now have in-laws who are university professors, while many in my family dropped out in early high school. The way that both sides talk about negotiating with schools, it's like they live in completely different worlds, though they all dealt with the same school board. For one side, teachers are reasonable and helpful - and if they aren't, you report them. Whereas my mother has had to repeatedly ask a principal for a simple psychometric test to determine the level of her granddaughter's disability (she has congenital mental and physical disabilities, but we don't know what). My mother has just found out that if she put the request in writing - after six months of delays on the verbal request - that the school has no choice but to administer the test. Fortunately, my mother is literate, though she only acheived that in adulthood. But not all of my family would have been comfortable writing a letter to the school.

So educated parents not only prepare their children more, but can argue more effectively when the school system falters - as it does in even the best run state schools.

Furthermore, they bring higher expectations. Educated parents expect their children to do better in school and to progress farther than parents without education. In the school near my house (which was public housing), very few of the children expected to go to university, some doubted they would finish highschool (esp those whose parents hadn't). Whereas I was sent away to a special program which was primarily middle-class students, and they all expected to go to university. This was when we were 12 or 13 - and I was only person I knew who didn't expect to go to university, partly because of the perception of the extremely high cost (itself a false perception at the time), and the fact that very few of my family and none of my neighbours had been to university. This changed how well I performed in school - though my mother was encouraging and supportive, I didn't care as much. I had 70s when my middle class friends had 80s (which were As in Canada - we mark differently from the US). I wasn't working towards anything, and this did show in my performance. If I had been at a school where no one was working towards anything, I think I would been more like my brother and gotten 50s and 60s, and dropped out. As it was, I ended up going to university, and doing as well as any of the others.

I know this is all getting anecdotal, but my mother did work in non-profit literacy programming for children, though only after she returned to high school and community college and learned how to write (she could read well, but wrote at a grade school level). And she said that in all of their studies of childhood literacy, parental ability and parental expectation were the most significant factors.

I think the only way to counteract these disadvantages, which stem not from lack of parental care, but just reality or class and education, is to work to mix up the schools. If lower class kids from families with poor education go to schools with middle class kids whose parents have high expectations, it will improve the whole school. Studies on busing show that - busing helps poor minority students, and doesn't adversely affect the middle class students.

============

And, of course. everyone should support literacy programs that encourage children to enjoy reading and writing. The literacy program my mother worked for - sadly now discontinued because of short-sightedness on behalf of the head organisation - did exactly that, and I watched the results with my own eyes, in that same public housing neighbourhood. It didn't matter what the kids read - they would get books on sports out of the library, it didn't have to be literature. But they read for fun, and became more fluent readers - some even read for the first time, because for the first time someone said "you can do it". Schools get way too fixated on what people read, and not whether they read or not. I read fantasy and science fiction,even pulpy Star Trek novels - and it wasn't that bad a preparation for Dante.
posted by jb at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


Methylviolet writes "Here's an even more shocking statistic: in Washington, DC today, fully 50% of all residents are below average in reading comprehension, basic math skills, and even... intelligence as measured by standardized tests! The system has failed. The sky is falling, yo."

I'm surprised the the distribution is so even, I would have thought it would be at least a little difference between the mean and the average.

bitmage writes "What I'd love to see is the schools producing people who can think."

Good luck with that, it's been a failure of our warehouse style education system for at least 20 years. People who think make bad cows. One of the key things I hope to teach my daughter in to have an inquisitive, analytical outlook.
posted by Mitheral at 9:08 AM on March 21, 2007


21% of the United States? Does that frighten anyone else?
posted by fluffycreature at 9:38 AM on March 21, 2007


Thank you, miss_lynnster, especially for the links to the adolescent literacy problems, which I am forwarding to my colleagues even as I type this....
posted by Lynsey at 9:40 AM on March 21, 2007


For a just a bit more than that, they could send all public students to private schools, and they'd get a dramatically superior education.

This overlooks that fact that really great schools can pick and chose whom they'll accept onto their rolls. The private schools will lose their superior qualities if they suddenly got stuck with kids whose parents don't make them do homework, or who have reading problems, or who steal from classmates routinely because the only way they get food and clothes from home (not making this up; soon-to-be-ex was a special-ed teacher) was to steal them from whomever else was under the same roof at the time.

To pick one example of unintended consequences, there's been some concern that widespread acceptance of private-school vouchers will create a de facto two-tier system for private schools: the kind you're thinking about, but for privileged kids who'd be those schools anyhow; and another kind for the voucher kids, who are there because public schools are themselves intolerable.

Kids who have a ton of learning and personal issues might have more trouble getting into a private school that's worth a damn -- the sort of school that doesn't have a mandate to try to educate everyone under its roof, no matter what, and can easily tell a troubled kid's parents "you need to seek outside assistance for your child's issues or find a school better suited to helping him/her."

A voucher just means the tuition gets paid; it doesn't mean the school has to accept the student, any more than I automatically deserve matriculation at Harvard just because I can suddenly afford to go. Perhaps there other private schools that'll take anybody who can come up with the voucher, and at least they can streamline getting rid of incorrigibles.

On preview: Yeah, Mithereal, I've been waiting for decades now to hear of a low to middle-income-area school district offer courses in critical thinking or Heinlein-type "History and Moral Philosophy" classes that grade kids only on participation by getting 'em arguing. You may not be able to stomach Heinlein's political indoctrination, but the idea of making kids learn how to defend a point of view has a lot to recommend it.
posted by pax digita at 9:43 AM on March 21, 2007


"For a just a bit more than that, they could send all public students to private schools, and they'd get a dramatically superior education."

Math word problem:

Find the number of private schools in the US. Find the number of public schools in the US. Find the maximum student capacity of all the private schools in the US. Find the maximum student capacity of all the public schools in the US.

Divide the maximum capacity of private schools by the maximum capacity of public schools.

Derive the number of new private schools needed to accept the added capacity. Be sure to include population projections in your calculations.

Recoil in horror wondering where all the money to build those schools will come from.

-----

If it only costs a little more to send kids to private schools for a far better (but likely highly biased in some way) education, then shouldn't we get on with completely rebuilding the public school system using the funds we've got?

Of course the problem isn't just with the schools, but sociological engineering is far harder than gutting the school system and reworking it.

"21% of the United States? Does that frighten anyone else?"

fluffycreature, that statistic, more than anything else, tells me that this country is not going to last much longer in its present form. Essentially, that means that 21% of this country is as mentally and psychologically manipulable as they can possibly be, and will be programmed by whatever source of information has the most access to their "common sensin'" ears and eyes.

Fix that, or face the irreversible decline of the Great Experiment.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:09 AM on March 21, 2007


i would just like to see the hands of people who actually remember learning to read *at school*.

the fact is that kids who read learn to do it at home. and the ones coming up are being raised in front of televisions by overworked and non-reading parents. reading development can not be done surrounded by thirty twitchy children. and i will tell you that as much as teachers might try to go through the motions of teaching, it's really a game of pretend.
posted by RedEmma at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2007


Mitheral, I'm afraid your statistics penis is not as big as you think it is. Perhaps you were thinking of the median?

Care to respond to the point I was making?
posted by Methylviolet at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2007


i always feel like such an outsider for thinking :

a. that maybe the problem is that there are too damned many people
b. that maybe concept of the sanctity of human life and the fact that people consider breeding a right is holding us back and is tremendously selfish
c. that you have to pass a test to drive a car but not to create life.
posted by radiosilents at 11:42 AM on March 21, 2007


If you can see the hands of people who raise them while reading your comment, then wow... you are a Hell of a lot more than just literate! Very impressive!

Okay, so... how many fingers am I holding up?
posted by miss lynnster at 11:51 AM on March 21, 2007


You're not alone, radiosilents. I'm with you on all three, most especially the very first one.

Pretty much every problem I see around me in everyday life starts right from "a."

For instance, from our office we can look right down on the 405/10 interchange in Los Angeles. It's always completely filled with cars during the day, with traffic slowed to about 30 mph as far as the eye can see.

Too many damn people.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:55 AM on March 21, 2007


i was writing figuratively, miss lynnster. surprised you couldn't figure that out.

so, did you learn to read at school, or didn't you?
posted by RedEmma at 12:26 PM on March 21, 2007


I'm not informed enough about the facts to attribute blame for illiteracy among students. Since reading is one of the biggest parts of my life, I teach reading and speed reading and reading comprehension and appreciation during the summer for a program called the Institute for Reading Development.

When you are actually teaching a young child how to read, you teach skills which they have to practice at home. The becoming fluent at reading part doesn't happen overnight and can take until a child is in the 5th or 6th grade. So, in my experience as a reading teacher, learning to read happens over time in many places through the implementation and use of reading skills. When I learned to read, I'm sure part of that happened at school and part of it happened out of school. But I'm also almost sure that both parts were necessary for my eventual fluency.
posted by inconsequentialist at 2:35 PM on March 21, 2007


I'm just a harmless little smart ass. surprised you couldn't figure that out.

I actually do remember when I started learning to read in school, but I was in a private school during kindergarten and first grade.

I remember far less of actual learning time that happened after I switched to public school. My public school memories are mostly about things like what a brat I thought Sally Harris was and the time I got into trouble for balancing an eraser on my nose during a math lesson.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:48 PM on March 21, 2007


It is stunning to me that we have let the state of education fall so far in this country. Why don't we have leaders who recognize the very seriousness of this issue? Wouldn't it be great if we had an actual President who gave a shit about this sort of thing? Somebody who would declare a state of emergency and do something. There is funding to research all sorts of phenomena-- sex lives of newts, sex lives of teenagers, sex lives of middle aged business men after triple heart bypass-- why can't we have a thorough, apolitical, white paper showing what does and does not work and how to institute changes?

Christ, when I think of the collective intelligence in this country and the collective wealth it flabbergasts me that there is so little will to actually educate the next generation.

The present government can take their fucking War on Drugs and War in Iraq and War Against the Terrorists and shove it up their asses. How about a War Against Illiteracy and a War on Poverty?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:47 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why would the current government want that? Poor, ignorant people are FAR easier to control, y'know?
posted by zoogleplex at 3:57 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


I kant reed dis tread.
posted by jonmc at 4:40 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


eye feel yor paen.
posted by tehloki at 7:27 PM on March 21, 2007


i always feel like such an outsider for thinking :

a. that maybe the problem is that there are too damned many people


Outsider, OK. Also, perhaps, ignorant and relying on outdated information re: demographics and population growth.

See, for instance, this report from the UN, especially this summary of birth rate information (pdf).
posted by not that girl at 9:51 PM on March 21, 2007


and the ones coming up are being raised in front of televisions by overworked and non-reading parents. reading development can not be done surrounded by thirty twitchy children.

If their parents are aliterate and supposedly too busy to do their duty as parents (if they neither actively nor passively encourage reading), you have to find a way to teach reading at school among the other twitchy children.

Lengthen the school day by an hour or two of pure reading and writing -- give them no goals other than learning to enjoy reading and writing (no hidden civics or history lessons, for example). Give them comfortable chairs in safe, quiet rooms where there is nothing to do but read. Supply interesting, fun books. Read in unison for a few minutes, then talk about what you read, then read again, then write about what you read, then read again, then draw what you just read about, etc. Encourage active, alert reading. Reward the best readers -- let them sit and read whatever they want to read with no performance pressure, or maybe kick them out to the playground (where they can still read if they want to) so the kids who need more reading help can get it.

If you can get kids to actively read in school for half an hour a day, five days a week, they'll be reading much more than most adults do.
posted by pracowity at 5:34 AM on March 22, 2007


Jamaican literacy rate is 88%. They have good schools and everyone is required to attend. Of course, they have an 11% unemployment rate and a 14% poverty rate, so fat lot of good it does them.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2007


The canard that we could just send all students to private school and our education woes would be solved is only promulgated by those who would like to see universal education gutted.

I say, let's have a voucher program, but let the public schools give them to their most difficult students. Then those students can seek out a private school that will

a) accept them,
b) deal with their problems, and
c) educate them better than the public school.

I went to both, and let me tell you, the rich kids who were problems bounced from private school to private school, getting kicked out repeatedly and getting little or no educational value from it all. Private schools are worse at handling problem kids than public schools are: they just turf them off to the next fools who admit them.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:35 AM on March 22, 2007


I guess that must be why I get first-year students writing things like "24/7" in essays. Or ending their e-mails to me with "C U in class!"

Maybe they just don't see the relevance of writing well. Switching between writing registers isn't too difficult, and if people can do it in speech they can learn to do it in writing. On the other hand, there are some people who just aren't good with it. But, when you're on AIM or sending a text, why waste time trying to make everything perfect when it's not what's needed for the environment?

You might just need to inspire your students to see the benefit of good writing, or get them to try to be entertained by using it. Maybe it's just not for everyone though.
posted by taursir at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2007


The newest form of English diction is of course never written; the sense of that leisure-class propriety which requires archaism in speech is present even in the most illiterate or sensational writers in sufficient force to prevent such a lapse. ... . A discriminate avoidance of neologisms is honorific, not only because it argues that time has been wasted in acquiring the obsolescent habit of speech, but also as showing that the speaker has from infancy habitually associated with persons who have been familiar with the obsolescent idiom. It thereby goes to show his leisure-class antecedents. Great purity of speech is presumptive evidence of several successive lives spent in other than vulgarly useful occupations; although its evidence is by no means entirely conclusive to the point. ... . English orthography satisfies all the requirements of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste. It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of detection. Therefore it is the first and readiest test of reputability in learning, and conformity to its ritual is indispensable to a blameless scholastic life.

Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
posted by bluffy at 10:18 AM on March 22, 2007


Methylviolet writes "Mitheral, I'm afraid your statistics penis is not as big as you think it is. Perhaps you were thinking of the median?

"Care to respond to the point I was making?"


I meant mode, I think spell checker bit me. must preview more.

To spell out my response: talking about an average for something like literacy as a public policy goal is silly. The distribution isn't one with a meaningful average. It'd be like talking about the average numbers of fingers per person at a company and getting 9.95 because Bob in Accounting lost a fingertip in a freak stapler accident. Saying 50% of people are below average at basic math skills is like saying 50% of people are below average at dialing a telephone. The break over point is the same or essentially the same as the upper limit.
posted by Mitheral at 12:14 PM on March 22, 2007


No, Mitheral, Methylviolet was right. You meant the median (the point of the distribution above which (and below which) exactly half of the mass lies. The mode is the value of maximum frequency.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:38 PM on March 22, 2007


Um, right. You got it. It's meaningless. Talking about an average for something like literacy as a public policy goal is silly. The distribution isn't one with a meaningful average.

I didn't say it better myself.
posted by Methylviolet at 1:31 PM on March 22, 2007


pracowity, so what you're suggesting is that kids who spend little time with their families as it is--the ones with parents who are so overcome with work that they don't have the energy to spend reading time with their children--should spend from 8:00-5:00 at a school? a full workday?

why not just remove children from the home altogether, since their parents are failing them?

sorry, i think that it's the societal structure itself that is fundamentally flawed. parents work harder for less money and gratification, and spend less time at home than ever. children spend more time in school than ever before--and guess what? they're learning less. time to take a big breath and do something completely different, because this is obviously, empirically, NOT working.

while your ideas about teaching reading sound just fine and dandy, and i taught very much that way when i was a teacher, all kinds of innovations of that kind have been thoroughly squelched by the obsession with testing ushered in with NCLB. and getting rid of NCLB in some fell swoop isn't going to solve the problem either. our culture doesn't value reading anymore, at its root. and it doesn't really value intellectual curiosity or any of the other things that school purports to teach.

(i have seen far, FAR more kids learn to hate reading and math at school than learn to love it.)

the only answer as far as i can see is to help children and adults to escape the structure that is killing both of those impulses. less hours at work, more hours at home. together. stop thinking that buying tons of crap is going to make life better and do whatever it is you can to spend your life together as a family. and if you can swing homeschooling, even if it means you have one car and don't even know what it means to go out for dinner anymore, then do it.

you won't be sorry you did. and neither will your kid(s).
posted by RedEmma at 1:56 PM on March 22, 2007


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