We all know children are much better at imitating what we adults do than obeying what we say, so maybe one simple way we can address the literacy crisis that is gripping our schools and communities is for us, the adults, to start reading more. And while the problem transcends race, class and gender, it’s particularly critical among black children and worse for children in poverty. It’s incumbent upon us to not only raise awareness, but lead by example and a great way to promote literacy during the month of February is to participate in the National African American Read-In.
Launched in 1990, the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English created the read-in to promote literacy and support Black authors in conjunction with Black History Month. Nearly thirty years later, literacy has reached crisis-mode amongst adults and in our public schools throughout the country.
Literacy is not an appealing subject — people don’t want to read about reading. But in this world of 280 characters and storytelling picture apps, literacy is increasingly moving from a problem to a crisis. No matter the city or state, children of color and in poverty are graduating from high school unable to read at the high school level. The situation in Nashville is no different.
In our public schools, 81.4 percent of Black students in 3rd – 8th grades scored “Basic” or “Below Basic” as designated by the TNReady test; only 18 percent scored “On Track” or “Mastered”. Little attention has been devoted to these statistics, but ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Quite simply, children who can’t read are more likely to become adults who don’t read and contribute to, among other things, hyper-populated prisons and generational poverty.
We can change the narrative by not only celebrating great leaders but by emulating them. How many of the nation’s most important historical figures found inspiration through the pages of a book? From an early age Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a voracious reader, devouring texts from Plato to Thoreau and, ultimately, Mahatma Gandhi teachings laid the foundation for the greatest movement in American History. In a speech about Gandhi’s influence, Dr. King said, “Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance.” Also, one the greatest writers of all time, the late Maya Angelou once wrote “Over time I have learned I am at my best around books.”
Here’s an opportunity to model what great readers do by participating in an online read-in. I started a group, and we chose to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Call it accountability in reading. If you care about improving literacy in our city, and especially among our youth, start your own group or look me up and join mine! Either way, you can make a difference around those closest to you. And isn’t that how we become the change we wish to see?
Join our conference call Friday, February 23, 2018 at 6pm CST. I’ll send out call details closer to the date and directly to participants.
Read something, y’all!