Last week, I was asked to do a bit of reading for a group of 11- and 12-year-old boys. The boys were part of an academic enrichment program called LEAP, a nonprofit organization supporting the educational needs of underprivileged children. LEAP helps to overcome the obstacles and shortfalls these kids experience in their learning and it does so by combining fun with fact.
No doubt, the enthusiasm ignited in everyone involved in this particular literacy event that day arose from the LEAP leaders, themselves. It was tough not to cheer and sing along with them and the crowd of children gathered about, all of whom were anxiously waiting to share their love of reading with a host of voluteers. Needless-to-say, I left the event inspired by the LEAP folk and the wonderful children I had met.
US President Barack Obama reads Christmas book 'The Polar Express' to an audience of elementary school children at the Richard England Clubhouse and Community Center in Washington, DC, on December 21, 2009. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
In driving back home, however, I couldn't help but feel encumbered by the sad reality beseeching too many children living in the United States today. Underprivileged or not, one too many kids attending our public schools, presently, will go on to become just another statistic in an education system that has allowed the United States to sink to 17th place in reading, according to the 2012 Programme For International Student Assessment scale. Many of these children won't have access to programs like LEAP to make the difference.
Do you know who is No. 1 on the PISA scale? China. Where the United States keeps touting our commitment to leaving "no child behind," our brothers and sisters from the East and even some from the North (as Canada is cleaning our clocks here as well) are actually doing it.
Dishearteningly, the cost of this failure to the United States goes way beyond the $69 billion of discretionary appropriations designated to the U.S. Department of Education - the majority of which is earmarked as formula funds that address the needs of disadvantaged poor and minority students, students with disabilities, and English learners. In my opinion, LEAPS mere existence, alone, defines how well that enormous sum of funding is being spent, don't ya think?
Our failure as a nation to teach our children to read plays out in social and economic ways that translate to lost opportunities and increased national debt beyond what can even be tallied. When we fail to inspire a love of reading in our children at an early age and a passion for learning at every age, we fail to ensure the future viability of the United States remaining a super power.
And if you think national programs like Common Core are going to fix that, think again.
Trading dollars for numbers is not going persuade kids to become lifelong learners. Any short-term gain that may occur won't solve the long-term problem currently plaguing the United States' education system. Infact, the black-and-white demands placed on students by Common Core may even drive more students to actually drop-out of school as oppose to creating an environment that has them clamoring to get in and stay in, such as that which LEAP is providing through their program.
What programs like LEAP are showing is what every good teacher across the nation will attest to - our societal culture requires educators to get down on their knees with kids (metaphorically and otherwise) and engage them by learning who they are. Then we need to feed to these kids based on what we know about them. If we were a country whose entire civilization or psychology were built on principles of order and subordinance, the Common Core program would work as everyone involved would share a myriad of reasons to make it work. But we aren't that country and we never will be.
If we want our children to excel in reading and their education, overall, we need to follow LEAP's lead in getting them to do so. We need to inspire them to want to surpass a meaningless number on a test and instead, ignite their desire to design a new test and brighter future so that those who follow in their footsteps learn the benefits of reading beyond just words.
After all, we all know where empty words and unfounded numbers get us, don't we? Seventeenth place in reading, if the PISA scale is right and even worse in math and science.
That's not good enough in my book, and it shouldn't be good enough in yours, either!
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