Can’t Read?…Back of the Line, Please!

Lafe Tolliver

By Lafe Tolliver, Esq
Guest Column

Yes, for any sensitive readers of my guest opinions, this one is going to be a screed regarding the many, many dangers of kids not being able to read.

What prompted my outrage was a recent article regarding the report card of the Toledo Public Schools and although they seemingly have made strides from going from a D plus to a C minus in overall academic achievement, what was a head knocker was that only one out of five kids in grades K-3 is reading at his or her grade level.

Let that sink in for a moment. Out of five kids in those grade levels, only one is making the grade regarding reading at her level; and as for the other “lost” four kids, I say that unless there is some intervention with their reading skills, “Good luck (tongue in cheek) with life!”

To me, it borders on academic malpractice that so many kids are being handed a ticket to nowhere if they cannot read and read with comprehension. Oh sure, pass them on to the next grade with such a lack of preparation; and watch them descend slower and slower in the quicksand of not liking school and the peer embarrassment of not being able to read basics 101.

I would like to think that those four kids who are not meeting basic reading levels at such a young age are targeted for intensive intervention for without which they are doomed to a life of insecurity about their confidence to successfully negotiate life and all its dead ends and detours.

Toledo Public Schools deserve no accolades for that gross and glaring debacle of so many kids being primed for failure. And, they will fail unless there is a reading program by which they are mandated to undertake before they can move on to the next grade.

If I were a family or a parent contemplating a move to Toledo or placing a kid in a K-3 grade school and read that statistic, I would run, not walk, away from such a woefully ineffective teaching program that has failed so many kids at such a critical age in their educational journey.

It is obvious that TPS needs to enrich its reading program at ALL GRADE levels so that each kid who graduates from Toledo Public is reading at his grade level, or better. No exceptions and no excuses.

If the school board and or the superintendent cannot conceptualize such a plan, my answer is simple: Fire them and hire professionals who see the same danger as I see it.

Why this distressing five alarm opinion? Just read the educational levels of most people in jail or in a prison and the stats indicate that they are nigh dysfunctional in reading skills.

Proficiency in reading is also indicative of other levels of educational accomplishments and reading is the foundation, the mainstay, the prime building block of increasing one’s chances to “make it” in America.

Now, I would be sorely remiss if I were to place all blame on urban public educational systems as the sole means of reading failure for young kids.

A huge hunk of this reading dysfunctionality starts in the home. The home is the nucleus of all that creates and molds a young life. It is in the home where the impressionable child learns values, morality, respect for authority, interpersonal relationships, intellectual curiosity and a sense of belonging and of self.

Without the positive influences of a functional home, a child can be left to their own wits to figure out how this life thing works. Without positive intervention from a caring parent or parents, the child is without a rudder and reading a book is not at the top of his or her list of things to do.

For a parent or a guardian to not be engaged in the education of that child or children in their care is mental and emotional child abuse and neglect. Poor parenting skills can doom many a child to the juvenile court system or, worse yet, to a life of misery, drugs, abuse and crime.

Yes, reading can make all the difference in giving a child a vision or an imagination that shows a way out if he is in a bad situation.

For a parent, stay at home or otherwise, to not daily monitor the homework and reading skills of her child is irresponsible.

If that parent is lacking in such skills, she needs to call her local school and ask for help. Learning to read is too important to leave to chance that the local school will target that disadvantaged reader and implement a remedial reading program.

Just how important is reading? In the days of slavery, a slave caught reading or with a book would face drastic physical punishment because “Massa” knew that a slave who could read was a dangerous slave because knowledge is power, and reading is powerful.

To see grown kids stumbling over themselves to read basic fifth grade books is painful and is a stark reminder that this reading problem has been going on for decades and somehow society is at peace with it. You cannot even speak intelligently if you cannot read!

Can’t read? You can’t do the following: (1) fill out an application for a job, (2) read labels on dangerous products, (3) follow safety instructions on complicated machinery,(4) read ballot instructions, (5) understand the fine print in a contract to buy a car, (6) read the US Constitution, (7) fill out complicated tax forms, (8) assemble home furniture or appliances, (9) send a letter of complaint to a governmental agency….and the list goes on and on.

How many kids graduate from ill-prepared public schools and go off to college and woefully fail in their first year because they were not prepped for the rigorous reading agenda of college?

If we are losing kids who do not have the power of reading and the many benefits that come from knowing how to read, a great part of that incalculable loss can be attributed to the negative impact of cell phones and kids having unrestricted access and hours of daily use on those devices as opposed to placing those lost hours reading great literature or other books.

I shudder at the losses that too many kids will face due to not being properly challenged and directed into reading avenues that make them lifelong readers and successful adults. The two are twins joined at the hip.

TPS shame on you. Non-involved parents, shame on you.


Contact Lafe Tolliver (a lifelong reader) at