But, I can’t read…

I always thought the only flashbacks I would have of my time in Camden, New Jersey would have to do with why and how I got there.  I was wrong.  I had an experience yesterday that made me think of something I was exposed to on a daily basis.  The serious lack of education for inner city youth.  I wasn’t sure it if was the school system, minimal parental involvement, or cultural stigma among some kids that education is a bad thing.

I work at an after school program in St. Pete that caters to what would be defined as inner city youth.  I’ll admit it was a challenge at first because I’ve raised my own children and felt I was done with being the influence to a young mind.  The first week was a time of acclimation and adjustment to the way things worked.  The kids assessed me and determined if I would be a good fit for their little world of snacks, play time, and bonding.  On Monday of the second week, I was greeted with hello’s and a few hugs and I realized I had passed the test.  Now was a time to claim my place as a trusting authority figure in their lives.  I feel I have accomplished that as well.

When Friday came around, I was mentally and physically exhausted from my first full week of being back at work after a year long hiatus for Grad school.  It was Hip Hop Friday.  Prior to starting the class, the instructor asked the children to fill out a questionnaire.  I knew this would be a brief reprieve, some quiet time.  One of the kids, a petite and bubbly little girl aged 10, approached me and told me she couldn’t read. At first I thought she was kidding and just didn’t want to fill out the questionnaire.  I looked at her and said, “you can’t read?”  Her response, “no, Ma’am.”  I still couldn’t process what she was saying so I asked, “why can’t you read?”  Her answer was quiet and she suddenly became shy, “because my teachers never taught me.”  I was floored.  I proceeded to take her into the other room to help her, and quickly realized she really couldn’t read.  She couldn’t even sound out the words.  My heart sank.  How can a country that is as developed and technologically progressive as this one have illiterate children and adults?  How is it that we do not place as much emphasis on education as we do on the frivolous things that make our consumerist society so oblivious?  Reading is the gateway to all things.  Reading could take that young girl on countless amazing journeys that enable her to forget the hard times she faces every day.  Our culture is more obsessed with teaching children what kinds of clothes to wear, electronic gadgets to own, and what kinds of material possessions to strive for than how to expand the mind through learning.  What they are not taught, is how to reach for their goals through education.  What blows my mind the most is how a parent could let that go unchecked.  Even if that parent cannot read, encouraging their child to gain that knowledge should be paramount!

That is all.