Is literacy a civil right? We the people want reading for all.

A message from the Executive Director

Is literacy—the ability to read and write—a civil right? I hope by the end of this message, you will know the answer in your heart.

A simple Google search will show you that civil rights are defined as the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. They deal with citizenship. The constitution defines and guarantees our civil rights. The charge of our court system is to uphold these rights. Ask yourself, is reading an essential skill required to participate in society?

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, says:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

A brave group of five former Detroit school students recently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the school failed to protect their civil rights, because they failed to teach them to read. The students' lawyer, Mark Rosenbaum, stated in the hearing, “The court can say to the state: You’re the experts. The state knows how to run a school system in classrooms... We are asking the state of Michigan to do what other communities do and fix this system so all children have basic access to minimal skills.”

When an innocent child does not have the opportunity to learn to read due to the limited resources and lack of funding in a school, is it a violation of constitutional rights? Are we depriving children of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” if, from the day they enter preschool to the day they leave high school, they do not learn what is necessary to succeed in our society? Is our community abridging the privileges of our youngest citizens by continuing to neglect the problem of poor literacy rates in our schools?

The Detroit case is the first of its kind in Federal Courts. According to a Detroit news article, “Legal experts say [U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III] is being asked to open the door to the concept of a constitutional right to literacy — which could one day put the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court.”

While reading this article, I was disturbed by the antics of the state and the lawyer each blaming someone else for the low reading abilities of students. No one wanted to take responsibility for these innocent children.

It’s simple for us to say, “That’s not my responsibility. I can’t do anything about it. It’s the teacher’s job or the parent’s responsibility to teach the child to read.”

Consider what it would be like as a new immigrant who doesn’t speak English and doesn’t understand how to navigate our educational system. More than 60 percent of the children we serve at ESLC are English Language Learners. Who is responsible for helping these innocent children and their family?

Furthermore, classrooms in this country have anywhere from 25 to 40 children with diverse needs. One classroom teacher simply doesn’t have the time to address each and every child’s unique needs. That’s why schools partner with organizations like ESLC, with experience meeting the individual needs of each child. We teach children to read who do not speak English, may have faced trauma, struggle with learning or behavioral disabilities and experience other barriers to reading.

I am well aware that while the Detroit case winds its way through the courts, we are quickly approaching our holiday season—a time when many of us seek comfort in our homes by the warmth of the fire with our children, reading a good book. As the children of Saint Paul and Detroit go home to their families for the holidays, please imagine what reading for all would look like. Please take the time to reflect with me on what the meaning of literacy as a right for all children means to our community.

I, for one, believe every child has the right to learn to read and write. In light of the Detroit court case and the sheer number of children we could be serving in Saint Paul, I must clarify that when I say, every child has the right to read, I mean every child regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class or any other identifier. If you support ESLC, then I know that you too believe in reading as a right for all. Join ESLC in sharing a social media post about why reading is a right for all using #reading4all and link to this blog message. Let’s start a movement that raises awareness about the needs of our children.

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ESLC’s “The Teeter Totter”

ESLC believes literacy is a right and we certainly want reading for all. That’s why we try to make reading tutoring simple and fun! ESLC tutoring involves a lot of fun activities and games, but once we introduce board games involving dice and moving pieces around a game board, look out! Game on! Kids love literacy games with an element of competition, and they love to win. Our secret is that they are actually learning to read too! Watch our social media and web sites for more stories about the balancing act between tutor and child.