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Prioritizing Literacy Is a Shared Responsibility

Photo: Courtesy of Suad Kamardeen

We know that literacy and the skills it encompasses are fundamental to the future success of any child, not only in school but in life.

So fundamental, in fact, that in the past two years, class action lawsuits have been filed in Michigan and California alleging that under-performing schools serving predominately low-income students of color have denied those students their constitutional right to literacy.

When a federal judge dismissed the Michigan case in early July, he acknowledged that literacy was of “incalculable importance.” “Voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy,” he wrote. The case still got tossed.

The message: Although literacy is a fundamental right, access to literacy is not.

And therein lies the problem. How are we to deliver on the promise of literacy as a pathway to equity if we can’t even promise access to high-quality literacy instruction?

In the United States, access is often tied to zip codes. Low-income households yield schools with fewer resources. In the absence of highly trained, sufficiently paid educators, students are left without stewards to ensure that fundamental right to literacy.

Even when brick and mortar barriers aren’t an issue, minoritized students — students of color, students on the LGBTQ spectrum, students who come to this country as refugees — still grapple with access because there is often inequity in the education itself.

Failure to acknowledge and address what is broken simply perpetuates the destructive cycle. If we as a society are to overcome these challenges, then we must make access to literacy a priority.

So, let’s fund our schools appropriately. Let’s regulate equitable distribution of resources from state and federal governments. Let’s demand inclusive curricula. Let’s ensure that families receive the information they need to support learning outside of the classroom.

More important, let’s make sure our teachers are given the preparation and professional learning opportunities that allow them to meet the needs of all students. We must look to communities, NGOs and corporations to aid us in these efforts instead of placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of our overworked, underpaid teachers. We must all work together if we’re going to set the next generation up for success. We owe them nothing less.

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