IlliteracyMy brother at 53 passed on 2 years ago, I'm writing a piece on why the schools in Cupertino, Ca pushed him through  knowing he couldn't read and write. When I was 28 years old I remember...


My brother at 53 passed on 2 years ago, I'm writing a piece on why the schools in Cupertino, Ca pushed him through  knowing he couldn't read and write. When I was 28 years old I remember filing out all of his papers and explaining to him what they were all about. I need to understand why the education system allowed this. My research so far and these are facts, in the seventy's the schools focused on students showing high potential, the less fortunate students who struggled and should have had more attention were quietly, discretely pushed out of school. The schools received money for every student attending.  There is more, but like I said its a piece I'm working on.

Expert Answers
kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There have always been people who have passed through the education system without basic skills: I am still dealing with illiterate parents and students in about the same proportions as I did from beginning my teacher training 20 years ago.

There are many factors to illiteracy, as other posts have mentioned. I think that we need to consider the idea of people being lifelong learners a little more. Some people come late to certain skills, because of a mixture of circumstance, motivation and capability. The conditions for learning have to be right, and sometimes the childhood/teenage years are not the best time. What we must not do is give up: we can teach the skills to cope with everyday life then look at the gaps - if necessary. As an English teacher I value literacy extremely highly, but I know of individuals in my community who work, have families and have valuable lives yet are not literate. Literacy gives us a great set of choices and SHOULD be part of everyone's life, but it isn't. We have to keep offering opportunities to learn throughout life.

It may be interesting for you to evaluate the circumstances of your brother's illiteracy. Did he have a specific learning difficulty? Was he absent from school? Did he enjoy school? Each case of illiteracy I have come across is unique. I have taught adult literacy classes: one 70- year old man was in tears when able to read a British tabloid newspaper. His daughter was learning to read at the same time. She was in her late 20's. His motivation for learning was her. There hadn't really been one before, and challenging life circumstances meant that literacy had not been a priority for either of them.

Teaching is only possible when the conditions to learn are right. There is, however, always chance to keep learning, or return to it.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I must start by taking issue with post #3's comment that "the high ability students will always pass." If the theoretical goal of education is to help every student reach his/her full potential, we do a serious disservice to the most capable students when we don't provide them with the challenges they need to stretch their capacities to learn. Too many gifted students shut down and drop out due to sheer boredom because the teachers focus on the classmates who are having problems learning without providing differentiated alternatives to the students who already have the material mastered.

In your brother's sad situation, there could have been a multitude of factors contributing to his moving through the school system without achieving the education he deserved. NCLB was designed to prevent this kind of situation from continuing in today's schools and we all know how well it is working... NOT! Threatening schools and/or educators if high-stakes test scores aren't showing enough improvement every year leads to the development of alternative tests or finding reasons for exemptions, not to the adequate education of every student.

What's the solution? I wish I knew! There is no one answer, which adds to the challenge - every case is different and, ideally, would receive individual attention. That's what the IEP is all about - and they are also NOT as effective as originally anticipated.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To post #5:

I am not saying that I do not challenge my higher ability students by any means. I am very sorry that it came across like that. I would like you to know that I do challenge these students a lot. Many of my essay questions, typically all I use because I despise multiple choice (what do they learn-how to choose the right answer verses creating the right answer), are hierarchical. The students, regardless of their ability, are able to show deeper recognition and understanding of the material through more elaborate and higher thinking questions.

My point was that I am afraid of many teachers who simply focus on the higher students while believing that the lower students are "too far gone".

To combat the "sheer boredom", I encourage students helping one another with their classwork. This helps the advanced students get a better understanding of how to teach material while helping those around them.

I know, like many of you, that we can never touch EVERY student. Too many times they have simply had a bad educational experience and come to us already shut down. But, that doesn't mean that I do not try to reach out to every student every year.

bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my experience, it's the parents that are too afraid of having their children labeled as slow or behind that make it hard for educators to give special literacy help to students.

We tried to hold a student back in the 8th grade because he was a struggling reader, but his parents said no because they did not want him to feel on the outside.

We established a remedial reading program in the high school, but in order for students to be enrolled, parents have to sign off on it. This year there were only 6 students in class. Many more qualified for the class, but the parents didn't want their students to appear dumb by taking it.

That's why we have done away with tracking and reading groups, which I think is a travesty. I think it benefits both the advanced readers and the struggling readers to be grouped together so the teachers can focus on their needs specifically to help them advance....but these will never be reinstated because no parent wants their kid in the "remedial" group.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I find myself constantly struggling with upper level students who cannot read. It is frustrating that I get these students as juniors and seniors and they struggle to not only read a text, but comprehend it as well. Simple texts are even very difficult for some.

As for focusing on "high ability" students, I find myself focusing on the opposite. The high ability students will always pass. the students who are struggling are the ones whom teachers really need to focus on. Unfortunately, too many times those who need the help are pushed through simply because of NCLB and IEP regulations.

Are we not in this field FOR students? Who can feel good saying that they passed a student who cannot read? It is not too late for these students. Teachers simply need to show the necessity, and get the support they need, of holding students back if they fail to meet grade requirements.

I know...easier said than done.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to put another spin on this topic. As a longtime teacher, I have always wondered how students could slip through the sytem without learning to read. First, it shows a disgraceful lack of attention from parents, who either (a) didn't care enough about their kids to read with/to them in their formative years; or (b) expected teachers to educate them without parental support or supervision. Sadly, many teachers (and administrators) passed the buck in elementary school by passing children who did not take the time to learn to read during the thousands of hours they spent in classes. There are many reasons children don't learn to read: laziness, absenteeism, and learning disabilities are just a few. But I really have a problem blaming the school system entirely for children who fail to achieve one of the rudimentary aspects of both education and modern civilization: learning to read.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Post #7 strikes at cogent points.  Having also taught Adult Basic Education and GED classes, many adults have enrolled in classes certainly with a different perspective and different motivation toward learning than those they possessed in high school or below, and the difference in their achievements is amazing.

Unfortunately, some students are lost in the shuffling that bureaucracies are known for.  The one-on-one instruction that people get in adult classes is often the reason for succes because the teacher can go at the student's pace, and the teacher can adress any confusion, etc. immediately before moving on.  Sadly, some students miss out on the type of instruction they need, and they do not seek it elsewhere.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sadly the situation hasn't changed much. There is a great deal of emphasis on "passing" children, particularly in the lower grades, whether they have learned basic lessons or not. Administrators routinely deny it, but as a teacher I can tell you for a fact that teachers are pressured by administration to keep their failure rates low. If they continually hold their students accountable, they are threatened with their jobs. As a high school teacher I see many students every day who cannot read on an even basic level; but they have been passed along because teachers are afraid to hold them back. It is a problem with the system that is long overdue for an overhaul.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Social promotion is a sad but common fact in public schools.  Teachers and schools don't know what to do when a child is too big to stay in one grade but does not know enough to pass on to the next.  It has become practice to just pass them along and let the next teacher deal with it until it's too late.

onehourteacher | Student

I would like to comment on post #5 by pointing out a bigger problem with the education system: too many students who have potential for becoming great in their own fields give up and drop out before they discover their talents because the teachers focus on only "outstanding and bright" students. The correct answer to the education system may actually be giving more attention and help to students that are behind. I don't mean to say that outstanding students must be pushed and praised. But, I just believe dealing with students in need should be the top priority. Bright students -acknowledging their talents and interests already- should be responsible for taking their next steps, challenging themselves on their own when they think that they have learned everything they could from school.

In your brother's case, post #1, there is no one right answer, but there is an ideal one: more people should be aware. Considering that the percentage of illiterate students is becoming smaller and smaller these days, many people are not even aware of how education systems "pass" these students. I guess the best we can hope now is that the people who are aware take action soon.

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