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Reading elusive to some children who slip through schools+ cracks

March 18, 1997

Reading elusive to some children who slip through schools' cracks

The issue:

Learning to read.

Her view:

Some children are being passed through grades without learning to read. Why?

Do you ever remember a time when you couldn't read. I really don't.

I don't even remember learning to read. It seems like one day, poof--it just happened.

I am trying to teach a local fourth grader named Vincent to read, but I expected the magic reading wand to have struck him by now. It has been a year and he still scans along looking at the pages at the pictures and pretends to read.

When I visited his school last week, I found him in the corner 'reading' while the rest of the class was doing their fourth-grade activities.

What good does it do to thrust a book at him and throw him in the corner while the rest of his grade passes him by?

Isn't this how the problem started?

Or was it the first, second and third grade teachers that passed him through the school system illiterate.

I had never thought about my learning to read until I started helping Vincent. It's just not something I think about. But I probably read hundreds of things today alone.

My mother remembers my learning to read so vividly that she can still recite my favorite poem and pages of my favorite book.

I seriously doubt Vincent's parents could say the same.

So maybe he slipped by his parents, but what about the paid educational professionals that are supposed to catch things like illiteracy?

I asked a friend if he remembers learning to read and a teacher's name was the first thing out of his mouth.

He said that Miss Hill would use flash cards with him. 'Even' was the hardest word for him, but she made sure he learned it.

Did our teachers care more? Did our parents work with us more? Or did I just not notice the other children around me that were pretending to read?

Actually, I am guilty of pretending to read. It was not because I was illiterate, I was bored.

In the second grade, Ms. Waller had a reading contest with a prize for the student who read the most books.

So everyday I would take home a new reader and skim the pages and pictures enough to pass my mom's spot checks on my comprehension.

Well, even at the age of seven, I had a knack for bologna and passed her tests.

I won the competition with a record number of books read for one year and received a 'My Little Pony' stamp set. I didn't really like the stamps mainly because I felt guilty.

I didn't tell my mom this story until years later. But I had a feeling she already knew, because while I thought I was fooling her--I wasn't. She started buying me books that I found interesting, like Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle and I read the whole thing from cover to cover.

My point is that interaction between parents and children and teachers and students would help prevent students from falling through the cracks.

Some teacher somewhere put Vincent's name on a potential-problem list and that's how I was put in contact with him.

I guess that teacher deserves a pat on the back, but why did he advance to the next grade?

It seems like students and teachers are taking the easiest route, like I did in the second grade.

Suck it up and do the flash cards. Vincent and I will.

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