What third graders have to do with prison planning

“In this country, we do the projections on how many prisons to build based on third-grade African-American male reading levels. We do so little for you after the third grade we can essentially know how many of those young people are going to end up in jail. That’s the biggest social injustice imaginable.” – Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington D.C. public school system, in an address at Duke University’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy [quoted in Duke Magazine Jan-Feb 2009]

Rant begins in 3…2…1…

I read this recently and it shocked me. Injustice. The way we’re doing things isn’t working too well. And it’s getting worse. Here in North Carolina, we’re dealing with a massive budget shortfall by taking money away from teachers and other municipal employees (except the former governor’s wife, who refuses to give up her cushy $170,000 gig, the one she got through the buddy system. Well, she might be willing to give it up for an $850,000 buyout…)

[Pause for sub-rant digression.]
And why do we have a massive budget shortfall? Because we were counting on both the return on investments and the tax revenue from citizens’ investment incomes and suddenly that has gone away. Why? Because the entire system was rigged. A good while back in the USA, we shifted from making money by providing good and services to making money by money itself. There are now layers upon layers of “profit” in nearly all our transactions. Countless, faceless middlemen taking a cut of everything. This kind of inverse pyramid scheme is not sustainable indefinitely. It eventually collapses under its own weight. This may be merely a recession we’re in, but it also might be a major system correction that will take longer and be more painful than we want to think about.
[End of digression.]

But back to my main point (rant). So our prison growth planning is tied to how many African American 10 year olds can’t read. And our traditional approach of throwing money at the problem is no longer available to us (never mind that it never worked all that well anyway) because all the money is gone, as most of it was pretend money to begin with [suppressing urge to digress again]. What can we do then? What we should have been doing all along – teaching our own children and helping teach any other children we can make meaningful contact with. Here are a few ideas:

1.    Read to your children. Turn off the TV, computer, cell phone, Blackberry, and iPhone/iPod and read your kids a book. Read them something they like. Read them something classic. Read them something quirky. Let them sit in your lap or snuggle up next to you on the couch and read to them.
2.    Volunteer for a local program in your area teaching people to read – children or adults. Note that the prison planning people focus on African American males? We should focus on them as well.
3.    Does your church read to your children? Does your church know if all the children it cares for every week are learning to read? You have them for 2-3 hours every week. How about smaller classes for the children, where they can sit on the floor around the teacher and listen to the Bible story? Oh, but that would mean we would need more volunteers. Yup.
4.    Stop depending on the government to educate your children. It never was their responsibility to begin with. They are not very good at it. I’m not saying you have to home school. But public school alone is not enough. Bright kids in a good environment will do okay (but why is okay good enough?). Bright kids in a less stable environment won’t do okay, and neither will kids that need any kind of special attention. They all could use some special attention, but that job is too big for the poor public school teacher making $30k (well, before the new payroll deduction to help the budget problem).

End of rant.

p.s. Please note that I am not ranting about public school teachers. Those folks are some of the most undervalued, underpayed, undersupported people in our society. The system is rigged against them. They have too many students, too few resources, and too little time. Most of them do the best they can given the situation. But the situation is not going to improve. We must supplement the effort these folks are giving.

2 thoughts on “What third graders have to do with prison planning

  1. Oh yeah, I’ll step up on the box and take up where you left off. First of all, I completely agree with all of the assorted rants you mentioned. Secondly, I want to suggest the idea that a good portion of the problems our country is facing are due to the continuing decline in personal responsibility. No one intends to take responsibility for *anything.* (I say no one because it’s easier than trying to make up a bogus percentage.) Parents blame schools that their children are fat, shamefully educated (i.e. 10 years old and can’t read), and badly behaved. Additionally, apparently churches and schools are supposed to replace real parenting. People blame the fast food industry for their own obesity. The government is responsible to buy them food while the lay on their rear NOT looking for a job. Everything is “some one else’s fault” and they lay around waiting for someone else to fix their life or for the world to magically change.
    Now, I’ll get off the box so someone else can get on. LOL.

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