Literacy and Civil Rights

In August of 2017, a group of five former Detroit public school students filed a Federal lawsuit alleging that the schools 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.”

Is the ability to read and write a civil right? As a former college instructor, I believe that it is. I’ve seen first-hand the struggles students face when they are not proficient in reading and writing. If students are at that point in college, literacy is can still be attainable, but getting there is far more difficult without a solid foundation in these basic skills. That’s one of the reasons I’m a reading tutor, trying to give at risk elementary students the help they need to succeed in life. Just as every child deserves the right tools to begin the school year, every child has the right to learn to read and write, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, class or any other identifier.

As noted in an earlier post, Illiteracy and Incarceration in America, research has shown a direct correlation between incarceration and illiteracy. Studies offer stark proof that literacy is frequently the difference between success and failure. As the Detroit case winds its way through the court system, the idea of literacy as a civil right makes perfect sense. As a country, we need to do all we can to make sure literacy is a right accessible to all.

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