One evening after dinner I asked my then first-grade son what he had learned at school that day. He quickly stood up and began to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which he said he had learned “by heart”. Placing his hand over his heart, he proclaimed in his six-year old sing-song voice the familiar pledge which is a beacon of our country’s heritage. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God with “litercy” and justice for all.” In his unassuming, simple manner, my son’s recitation of words he had learned in school encapsulated what is important to me in education and why I became a reading teacher. Fifteen years later, his words have continued to be a beacon that has helped guide my decisions in my work with students and teachers. It has inspired my work with children as I teach them to read, my work with teachers as I support them to become quality teachers of literacy, and my work with schools as I help develop systems that assure quality literacy instruction for all students.
I believe that to attain literacy is to gain liberty. This pledge that we declare everyday in our schools says that we live in a country which offers liberty and justice for all people. The beacon of hope that has greeted “the tired and poor” from many cultures to our community has been the promise of liberty for all. Yet in my 20+ years as an educator, I have seen that opportunities for all, because of a lack of literacy, are not the same.
I think about Lizzy and Tyler, fifth grade readers I taught in my early years as a teacher who had not become fluent—slowly plodding through the text, often stuck on a word—resorting only to sounding out the word, phoneme by phoneme, in an attempt to identify the word. As they were working through their text, their friends were fluidly reading much more complicated text, having their world expand with ideas and experiences which were unattainable through the written word to these slow and unsystematic readers. Their liberty was curtailed by their lack of literacy.
I think of Daniella and Tyler, tenth graders I have observed in a social studies class who were asked to read a text that was much more complex than they could actually read. The ideas that they needed to understand the social studies principles being presented were within that text, but these students didn’t have access to these ideas because they couldn’t read the words. While students within their class were gaining knowledge about our world’s history through reading, Daniella and Tyler and other students like them were depending on the conversation during class to gain the necessary information. During that conversation, those who read the text with understanding were deepening their understanding while the Daniellas and Tylers of the class were getting the information for the first time. Their liberty was curtailed by their lack of literacy.
I believe that to attain literacy is to gain liberty. As an educator and as an educational leader, my mission is to work for justice for all as I work to provide literacy for all. Whether I am working with one child at a time, groups of students, a group of teachers, or a school system, I strive to provide opportunities for the Daniellas, Tylers, and Lizzys of our schools to become independent readers and writers. The beacon of hope for today’s students lies in their capability to be independent thinkers and learners which is at the very heart of why literacy is so important. A strong literacy base opens opportunities and allows our students to be more productive, and fulfilled citizens of the world. As an educator, it is my challenge to work for literacy for all. In my pursuit of literacy for all, I work for a world that advances “liberty and justice for all.”