- The Washington Times
Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Christian and Skyler were anxious. The 5-year-old Texas twins were set to enter kindergarten — until Hurricane Harvey ripped their world. Their school is among five north of Corpus Christi that remain shuttered, having lost heating and air conditioning systems, roofs, electrical systems and much of what ordinarily defines a schoolhouse, including children, teachers and books.

Other schools had no room for Christian and Skyler.

So, on their behalf I say: Friends, Americans, parents, lend me your eyes and open your hearts, minds and wallets.

Amid the hurricanes and despair, reading is still fundamental.

Just a few quick facts from notable Reading Is Fundamental (RIF):

Nationwide, 25 percent of America’s children cannot read on a proficient level.

Of new kindergarteners, 34 percent lack the basic skills needed to learn how to read.

Of fourth-graders, 65 percent read below grade level.

Only 37 percent of students graduate from high school at or above reading proficiency.

A pretty sad state of affairs, is it not?

We’ve placed much of our hope to turn those numbers around in the hands of local, state and federal authorities, whose hands are strapped to special interests.

Yet, even if you’re a cheerleader for the status quo, think of young people like Skyler, Christian and thousands of others whose access to books, schools and public libraries were blown away this hurricane season.

Indeed, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia and Maria disrupted the lives of so many as the disasters coincided with late summer vacations and the start of the new school year.

Enter a global First Lady of Literacy, Barbara Bush.

Although Mrs. Bush didn’t found RIF, she earns the honorary title of Global First Lady of Literacy because she lends her name, her heart and her mind — and resources — to try to stem America’s illiteracy rates and urges reading as family affairs around the world.

Just this week at the United Nations, for example, the finalists for the Global Learning’s XPRIZE were announced, and the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE is in and of itself a $7 million booster. The XPRIZE winners will aid an untold number of young people around the world by helping children to teach themselves how to read, write and calculate.

How 21st century.

We still need to go old school, though.

With illiteracy a nagging academic gap, not much replaces a parent reading to a young person, a young person reading to a parent, a young person reading to herself, or a young person helping to teach a younger person how to read.

The benefits are endless.

Mrs. Bush, a lifelong lover of book reading, has long considered reading a family affair — and more so after son Neil was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. An author in her own right, family literacy advocacy is a fundamental part of her legacy. In fact, so much so she named her nonprofit the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

No matter your political cloak, open your hearts, minds and wallets and see to it that our schools and libraries get the books and literacy tools they need to replace after the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back hurricanes.

You already know that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Now you know, too, why reading is still fundamental around the globe.

Christian, Sklyer and the other children are depending on us.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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