It’s perfect timing for this guest post by Amanda Beacon.  My last post Blueberries and Students talks about how we educators are required to teach all students, that is part of the promise of public education.  Here, Amanda discusses this further and poses a possible solution to the issue of many who struggle with literacy.  ~EMP

As late as the middle of the twentieth century, children could be denied a public education for any number of reasons. Over a period of a decade, schools were forced to accept all children as students. Minority students, the handicapped and many others entered classrooms across America. This, combined with forced integration, dramatically changed the schools. It soon became apparent that traditional teaching methods would not be able to handle the educational needs of many of these students.

It is clear that children need to learn the basics of reading and arithmetic, at home, in the preschool years. Young children’s brains, like sponges, soak up learning. By the time a child is five and enters kindergarten, those who have not been exposed to these fundamental learning experiences can be considered at-risk.

Over the decades since public schools have been made accessible to all children, a number of programs have been tried as part of an effort to prepare at-risk students to learn and help them keep up with their peers. While there have been some isolated success stories, most programs have failed – many because of a lack of funding.

The problem lies in the environment in which many children find themselves through no fault of their own. Pockets of intense ignorance and poverty, exacerbated by a fractured family structure, rob children of the opportunity to prepare for academic success.

Now that the suffering economy has taken substantial amounts of money from school systems all over the country, the situation is getting worse. When compared to the graduates of the school systems in other countries, the United States is falling farther and farther behind. This will continue until the cause of the problem is identified and remedied.

A Possible Solution

The best way to teach is by example. When teachers tell children that education is valuable but they return home to families that see no value in education or can provide no assistance, how can they reconcile that dichotomy? While some do, most do not, and the cycle continues. If the home environment could be changed, that might make the difference.

Families of at-risk students should be considered at-risk families. Many family members do not have a high school diploma. Others might, but they are still functionally illiterate. Consider a program that would pay these family members to continue their education and get a GED where appropriate. Think of the message such a program would give to children.

This instructional program should be located in the schools. While qualified teachers would have to provide lesson plans tailored to each student and oversee instruction, the students at the school could serve as tutors. Imagine a third grader reading at a first grade level tutoring an adult who does not know her alphabet. Think of the pride and sense of accomplishment on the part of the child as well as the reinforcement of skills. What better way to demonstrate how important literacy is than by showing your own children you are learning to read or getting a GED.

This might be a way to revolutionize the school system and change the course of the country. America can never achieve true greatness when so many of her citizens are illiterate. Gone are the days when those who signed their names with an X could easily find jobs that required no education. Most contemporary jobs involve some reading if only to fill out the job application. Many jobs require the use of a computer.

Someone who is illiterate cannot function in today’s workplace. Something has to be done to bring the light of literacy to all American citizens. Why not address the environmental deficits? It might be the answer to this age-old problem. It could not hurt to try.
Amanda Beacon is an online instructor at College City. She works as a volunteer tutor at a school with a large number of students who are considered at-risk.

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