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What if teenagers can’t even read?

1 ¾ min

The teacher’s words are a year old now, but still deeply troubling. In her December 4, 2014 letter to the editor, Kim Dallas, an English teacher at Rosemount High School in Minnesota had the following to say:

“I teach high school English, and I am begging you to please read to your children. Read everything. ….

Why? Because your children can’t read.

We are in the midst of one of the greatest literacy crises ever encountered, and we are fighting an uphill battle. Every day I experience firsthand what it means to be illiterate in a high school classroom. At best it means sleeping away a unit; at worst it means depression or aggression. Average students with average abilities can fervently text away, but they cannot read.

Recently, I gave a unit test where students could use all their notes and their short story on the test (not my standard practice). The results: abysmal. I didn’t think the test was too difficult until I started doing some investigating and made a shocking discovery. They couldn’t even read the test. …

I teach nearly 200 high school juniors each day. If we give them all the same book to read, they often do not read it. Ask them why, and they say: ‘It’s boring.’ Translation? ‘It’s too hard.’”

Rosemount is not an “urban” or “poor” high school. It is in a suburb of the Twin Cities with a median household income of $85,000 and over 80% of the population is white.

To be fair, that story is anecdotal; maybe there’s just a problem in that school district. Alas, that’s probably not the case. Rosemount High School is more likely of an example of the breakdown of our education system that’s happening across the country. Consider the fact that as of 2013, only 38% of high school seniors were considered proficient in reading by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP): 

Yes, we have a problem and Kim Dallas is probably quite right, “we are in the midst of one of the greatest literacy crises ever encountered…”

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