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Rebecca Chao
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About me: I am a former EW! volunteer who participated in the program for two years while working in Washington, D.C. I'm a strong believer in the importance of reading to children. I am looking to continue being involved in EW! My thoughts about the national reading campaign: The campaign is a wonderful idea but there are several reasons why it might not work and why it may be a poor use of limited funds during this hard, economic time. First, let's consider the statistics cited in Ms. Robinson's article. 52% of children, close to 13 million under age 6, are not being read to on a regular basis. Rather then jump to conclusions, we must ask ourselves the question: WHY? One possible reason, as Ms. Robinson points out is that parents may not know how important it is to read to their children on a regular basis. In this case, a campaign may work. However, another more compelling reason is that parents do not have the ABILITY to read to their children. In this case, a campaign would not work, though the case for EW! (and its expansion) is even more urgent. Consider our nation's immigrant population, approximately 12.4% of the total or 35.7 million people, and on the rise. This means that there is a great number of first generation American children who live in homes whose primary language are not English and whose parents are incapable of reading to them in English. Let's also consider our nation's illiterate adult population. According to this fascinating article in Newsweek (http://www.shashitharoor.com/articles/newsweek/illiterate.php), 23% or 44 million people are FUNCTIONALLY illiterate, meaning they cannot "use reading, writing and computational skills in everyday life: filling out a job application, reading traffic signs, figuring out an election ballot, reading a newspaper, understanding a bus schedule or a product label—or an address on a sheet of paper." The article continues, "If anything, the situation is worse than those statistics suggest, because 50 million more Americans cannot read or comprehend above an eighth-grade level. To appreciate what that means: you need ninth-grade comprehension to understand the instructions for an antidote on an ordinary can of cockroach poison in your kitchen, 10th grade to follow a federal income-tax return, 12th-grade competence to read a life-insurance form. All told, a staggering percentage of America’s adults are, in effect, unequipped for life in a modern society." Can we expect these adults to read to their children? A better solution to a national campaign is active and rigorous expansion of EW! into the areas where there is a negative cycle of illiteracy, like the inner-cities, which the Newsweek article points out. I am a living example of someone who was not read to as a child but benefited tremendously from a reading mentor. I am a first generation American, born to immigrant parents. Though my parents were fluent in English, it was not spoken or read often at home. Because my parents were extremely busy working to provide for me and my siblings (with one parent working two jobs), I was primarily raised by my grandparents who did not speak a word of English (apart from “Hello” and “Goodbye”). I was overlooked in school because I learned to associate the sounds of words to their shape and general appearance but did not know how to sound out a word itself. It wasn’t discovered until the second grade that I did not know how to read. Fortunately, my parents solicited the help of my next door neighbor, a recent college graduate who was born and raised in America, to read to me and with me for 2-3 hours a week. Within a year’s time, I went from being unable to sound out words to reading Ramona Quimby-like chapter books. I do not know where I’d be today without that mentor. In my experience as a reading mentor, my student suffered from the same problem. She had difficulty sounding out words and would often confuse similar looking words like “dog” and “dot.” The truth is, many children today may appear to know how to read but may not in fact really know how. How long does this have to go undetected? I am aware that EW! is now a national program with branches in many major cities but I’m working part-time right now in the Bronx, considered the poorest borough in New York City, and it does not have an EW! program. The proof is in school report cards, which reveal that children are scoring very poorly on English language exams. It is no wonder that children are scoring poorly in English, considering the borough’s demographics, with 43.67% of Bronxites speaking Spanish at home, sometimes without English. I think EW! is a great program and that all children should have the benefit of being read to by a caring, literate adult. So rather than creating a national campaign, EW! funds could be spent on program expansion.
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