Over the summer, I had the privilege of teaching journalism to a girl I will never forget. At first glance, she stood out. It was her vibrant personality and confidence that struck me. However, when it was time for her to do work, she would not budge. Her good traits faded away. It was not until she broke down and told me her biggest struggles that I understood why. As a high school senior, she was reading and writing at a ninth-grade level.
While I am not sure how she fell through the cracks in the educational system, I know that somewhere down the road something went wrong. This might be a stretch, but something may have gone wrong in the place where her education began – home.
Watching the movie “Precious,” based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, I am reminded of my student, because she shares the same educational struggle as the lead character. Precious is an illiterate 16-year-old in junior high school suffering various forms of abuse. For Precious, becoming literate is a literal escape. Without literacy, Precious is not able to advocate for herself because she has poor language, reading and writing skills.
Once Precious begins to improve her communication skills, she is able to speak out against her abusers. However, her formal education did not begin in her household as it should have. It is obvious that Precious’s abusive mother was not concerned with her daughter’s education. It seems as if there has been a cycle of illiteracy in their household.
According to the REACH Education Foundation, a parent’s literacy level is one of the most significant predictors of a child’s literacy. Children of illiterate parents are more likely to drop out of school. It is at home that children learn their first words, are exposed to their first books and learn the alphabet. It is the early years that are most important for the growth and development of children’s reading and writing skills. A study conducted by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, which is part of the U.S. Education Department, showed that there is a direct correlation
In 2004, the Children’s Defense Fund reported that seven out of 10 fourth graders cannot read at grade level. A study conducted by the National Dyslexia Association showed that in low-income urban schools, the figure for the illiteracy of fourth graders is almost 70 percent.
With patience and the right tools, it is easy to teach a child to read and write. However, if neglected and ignored, children can slip through the cracks and somehow make it to their senior year in high school without being confident in their abilities.
Fortunately, I know that, just like Precious, my student will not stop pursuing her education. Despite struggling to get through her work last summer, she stuck with it and never gave up.
There were days when she would become frustrated and not want to do her work. On the other hand, there were days when we would stay late into the evening and work on her story.
At the end of the summer, we produced a magazine and she was so proud to see her story in it.
Eboni Farmer is a senior majoring in journalism at Howard University.