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2009-04-09 digital edition

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2009-04-09 / Community News

Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson

Teaching Children To Read Is Greatest Priority

 
QUESTION: Schools are asked to accomplish many things on behalf of our kids today. They are even expected to teach them how to have sex without spreading disease. What part of the curriculum would you give the most priority?

DR. DOBSON: Schools that try to do everything may wind up doing very little. That's why I believe we should give priority to the academic fundamentals — what used to be called "readin', writin', and 'rithmetic." Of those three, the most important is basic literacy. An appalling number of students graduating from high school can't even read the employment page of the newspaper or comprehend an elementary book. Every one of those young men and women will suffer years of pain and embarrassment because of our failure. That misery starts at a very young age.

A tenth grade boy was once referred to me because he was dropping out of school. I asked why he was quitting and he said with great passion, "I've been miserable since first grade. I've felt embarrassed and stupid every year. I've had to stand up and read, but I can't even understand a second grade book. You people have had your last laugh at me. I'm getting out." I told him I didn't blame him for the way he felt; his suffering was our responsibility.

Teaching children to read should be "Job One" for educators. Giving boys and girls that basic skill is the foundation on which other learning is built. Unfortunately, millions of young people are still functionally illiterate after completing 12 years of schooling and receiving high school diplomas. There is no excuse for this failure.

Research shows that every student, with very few exceptions, can be taught to read if the task is approached creatively and individually. Admittedly, some can't learn in group settings because their minds wander and they don't ask questions as readily. They require one-on-one instruction from trained reading specialists. It is expensive for schools to support these remedial teachers, but no expenditure would be more helpful. Special techniques, teaching machines, and behavior modification techniques can work in individual cases.

The sooner this help can be given, the better for the emotional and academic well-being of the child.

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