Recently my daughter (living 2400 miles away) sent me a video clip of my 22 month old granddaughter Brenna “reading” Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Of course I was thrilled to see how those months of reading aloud to her were paying off. She turned the pages, made up the story, and although her speech wasn’t always clear, you could hear the pattern every now and then “T-sher, T-sher, what do you see?” But though I’m excited about my own grandchild’s progress, I can’t help but wonder about all those other preschoolers who don’t have the advantages that Brenna has.
I worry a lot about all those homes with very little or no books, with no literate parents or adults in the home, no computers or internet access, and so on. Some parents I know work three jobs just to put food on the table – there is no extra money for books or supplies and no extra time to read, write, or tell stories with their children. No matter how you look at it, poverty plays a big role in affecting how much of a literate background some kids will begin school with. And the job of closing the gap falls on the teachers in those early grades. Blaming the parents or the home environment does nothing to solve the problem. We know that.
And let’s not forget the technology gap that will also affect these same students. I was listening to a discussion on NPR radio one day about how kids of the future will be so different because of all their computer knowledge. One father called in and told how he got smart phones for his children so that when they toured Washington D. C. they could log onto a special site that enhanced what they were observing at the museums. As the world gets more and more linked in, what is happening to the others who have very little opportunity and experience with technology? The poor won’t have those same advantages as the caller on the NPR program. And that gap will only get bigger. We have got to get to the root of the problem and do something about those families living below the poverty line! We have to admit that socio-economic status does correlate at times with children’s success in literacy.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, however, it would make sense to me if we turned our attention to (and poured more tax dollars into) more Headstart programs, more excellent quality pre-schools FREE for children living in poverty, more early intervention programs like Reading Recovery once children start school, and so on.
Here is a quote I keep on my desk at home: “Literacy is inseparable from opportunity, and opportunity is inseparable from freedom. The freedom promised by literacy is both freedom from — from ignorance, oppression, poverty — and freedom to — to do new things, to make choices, to learn.” Koichiro Matsuura (former UNESCO director.)
Brenna has four more school years at home (in daycare and preschools) before kindergarten. The literate background and extended vocabulary she will begin kindergarten with will be astounding! How will we (primary K-2 teachers) close the gap for all those other children? How can teachers support the literacy acquisition of every single one of their students?