Why does policy focus so much on literacy but not language?

Our school, Charleston Bilingual Academy, is in some ways an experiment. An experiment to prove policymakers and researchers are misguided.  We have this notion that education can save the world. They claim that our societal ills are ultimately caused by the lack of education.  Hence the assumption, if we can properly educate our citizenry, eliminating the paucity of knowledge, then we can cure problems that are endemic to our cities, especially among low-income groups.  In line with this theory, we have poured so much more money into education in the last 30 years, and beginning to include initiatives on the bookends- both before kindergarten and after 12th grade. The latest push for free community college is such an example.

On the front end, policies and massive amounts of funding have focused on early intervention like HeadStart and literacy initiatives.  And part of the theory is based on the clear research that the achievement gap (the difference in the mean academic performances between whites and minorities) already exists in Kindergarten and neither decreases or increases significantly over the 13 years of public education.

After 3 decades of investing time and money, generational poverty has only grown as has the great divide across socioeconomic groups.  What are we missing?

2 things.

First, families need to be impacted by real relationships, not policies and vouchers.  Schools have to be surrounded by people who truly want to love and serve them (not mercenaries). In my experience, this happens with special churches who truly want to live like they did back in the Book of Acts- its not a soup kitchen, its not a 9-5 ministry- its lives on lives- loving like Jesus loved us.

Secondly, the focus on literacy is admirable, but language comes first.  Think about it. There is no knowledge without language.  Research says the first 3 years of life are the most pivotal for language acquisition (Read our blog “How should a parent think about Preschool” to learn more about the physiological development of children). We must intentionally place our children in language-rich environments.  And it is here that I recommend that we create much higher standards- let’s place our children in bilingual contexts, giving them the gifts of two languages (or more- when I was a headmaster in Caracas, Venezuela many of our students were beautifully trilingual).  Imagine a child entering into Kindergarten with the confidence of knowing 2 languages and various cultures… As that child’s brain begins to change and he learns to read, he will crush the achievement gap! Well, we are doing our part in starting a Spanish-immersion preschool, bridging racial and socioeconomic barriers, changing the trajectory of lives by inspiring children to one day change the world.


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