Why Can’t Johnny Read?

Guest Commentary

Volume C, No. 11November, 2000

Assemblymember Ed Sullivan

Briefly, because he and his sister, Jane, are not given the opportunity to read. They are not given the time to read and enjoy it, they are not given special teachers to help them over the rough spots, they are put in classes so large that they do not have the opportunity to exchange their thoughts on what they read with their classmates, and when they do get a chance to read something they enjoy, they are tested ad nauseam to find out if they got it “right.”

What do the kids have? What do the kids need?

What the kids have is an overdose of adult, wheeler-dealer edu-crats, each of whom has the elixir that will lead them (the kids) to swift and certain knowledge.

These are the promoters of charter schools, which have shown zero improvement over local public schools in New York State; of “phonics” reading programs, which leave unanswered the question of how the millions and millions of doctors, teachers, authors, architects, lawyers, etc., who never had a phonics program ever learned to read; of school vouchers, whose main purpose is to destroy the powerful teachers’ unions; of nationwide testing programs (while maintaining “local control,” of course!!?); of the “no-social-promotion” mantra, which I guess will have thirteen-year-olds in Fourth Grade still struggling with long-division, perhaps forever – of everything except day-in/day-out hands-on teaching, the kind that teachers do.

Have you ever noticed that these edu-crats frequently warn that a “school” wherein the kids score too low on the ubiquitous tests will be closed if the scores don’t go up? Now, let’s see – was it the building that caused the low scores? The building? And will locking up the building help the kids read or do their math better? Nobody believes that, not even the edu-crats. But the threat of closing a school makes them sound strong, makes it look like they’re “doing something” – when in fact closing a school misses the whole point.

So what do the kids need?

What they need is smaller class sizes so they can get more attention from the teacher and so they can relate to one another (an essential element in learning) without the classroom spinning out of control.

What the kids need are teachers who are committed to solving their learning problems, and that means better pay to keep the experienced, accomplished teachers on board.

What many kids need are quiet study halls in the school so they can do their homework and get their reading done. Many kids don’t have an atmosphere at home that helps them do their homework. That is not their fault!

What the kids need is more physical exercise under supervision at school so they can develop their bodies as they develop their minds. This physical activity is sadly lacking in New York City schools.

What the kids need is more education in music and arts, so that they can come to understand themselves and the world around them better. When times are tough fiscally in schools, music and arts are among the first things cut, and that is wrong. Music and arts programs are as essential as arithmetic, I would argue (although admittedly harder to test for, a real problem for the edu-crats).

What the kids need are computers. All the kids need them, and they need them several hours a day, not just occasionally.

I could go on. Is there a common thread here? All the things that the kids really need cost money, lots of money. What our society has to decide is whether we are willing to spend the money on educating our kids. So far, the answer has been “sort of.” We’ve got to do better than that.