Study after study continues to document the decline in the English proficiency of the American high school graduate, which greatly undermines their chances for success in college and in the workforce.
Shocking? Yes. Sad? Absolutely. Meant to be? Absolutely not.
As our educational status in the world slips further and further, we need to ask ourselves what is the cost of not doing anything about this. A number of educational leaders, to include writers and entertainment icons, have taken up the pen, and perhaps even the sword, to turn the tide on this shameful situation. For any child in this great country to not be able to read and write at a fundamental level is inexcusable.
So, what’s being done?
Before I talk about what’s being done, let’s examine - albeit superficially - one of the causes of poor performance in English proficiency in the United States.
Reading - or more precisely - not reading enough is a primary cause.
School days are packed with all sorts of mandatory curricula these days that I’m sure the overwhelming nature of it gives teachers, parents - and students - headaches. I know some teachers still manage to make learning fun in the classroom but I suspect that reading is more of a chore these days for all concerned than when I was growing up.
I loved to read. I escaped to all kinds of worlds and places through reading. Of course, I didn’t have hundreds of cable channels, video games or a personal computer when I was growing up. Reading was my entertainment. Oh I loved to watch TV. It’s just that when there’s only one set in the house, only 3-5 channels, and no remote control, why bother? It was much easier to pick up a book and escape. Now there are televisions in every room! I’m actually downsizing on these in my home and setting up comfortable reading and writing areas.
Which brings me to solutions.
Remove televisions, or at least reduce time spent in front of them. The brain develops differently when exposed only to stimulation from televisions and other electronics. This needs to be balanced with reading and writing.
I truly believe that those of us who write, especially fiction and poetry, have a passion to do so. We’re excited every time we craft a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter and even if we’re rejected along the way - as many of us are - we can’t stop.
So just where did that passion come from and why aren’t we as a society firing up that same passion in the generations behind us?
Oh, it would be ever so easy to blame the teachers, but it’s not them. True, successful writers and other professionals often site a teacher or a coach as having inspired them along the way, but that’s only part of it. I believe that one of the most important locations for children to embrace reading and writing is in the home. Parents have much more influence over how their children develop than they accept responsibility for. Simply put - Monkey see, Monkey do. At the risk of insulting Monkeys who are very smart indeed, our children really do learn in their formative years from us, their parents, by mimicking what we do.
James Patterson is a strong supporter of encouraging children to read and has a website www.ReadKiddoRead.com which he heavily promotes. Additional sites to motivate children to read are mentioned in an article in USAToday about James Patterson's efforts to engage children in reading. Here’s the link:
So, what can we do as writers? After all, we need a continual supply of readers to sell more books!
We can follow James Patterson’s lead by reaching out to all levels of students and engage them in the reading process. We may not be able to reach as far as he does but if each of us touches just one student, then English proficiency will improve exponentially as they in turn touch others.
If you need further motivation, just remember that the youth of today will be our medical and old-age home caretakers of tomorrow. Education, not just English proficiency is all of our responsibility. As another saying goes, "You get what you pay for!" The education of all of our children in this great country is an investment worthy of our time and money.