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Letter: Reading to students is still the best way to teach them
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Pre-schoolers at World Language Academy listen to Coy Bowles of the Zac Brown Band during a class visit in Flowery Branch, on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Bowles played music and read his new book, "Behind the Little Red Door." - photo by David Barnes

Can we just stop it, please? It’s all just a big waste of time, energy, resources and public goodwill. 

None of this incessant arguing, posturing, school reorganizing, renaming of instruction standards — indeed, even changing the standards themselves — has ever, can ever or will ever teach a single one of the 50-plus percent of our Gainesville elementary and middle school students currently unable to read at the “developing learner” level how to do so. (see this story

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: The only way anyone has ever learned, or can ever learn, to read the English language is to have someone who can already read it teach them how, one-on-one, the same way you learned how to do it long ago. Some things simply don’t change.

Within the first few days after beginning classes each school year, our dedicated Gainesville teachers know who every one of these unfortunate students is. A few days after that, they know exactly what will be required to teach them how to overcome their deficiency. Our teachers would have a fighting chance to get this done themselves if they had only one or two of these “developing learners” in their classes. But how can they possibly be expected to cope with the issue when more than half of their students arrive at school every day with this debilitating deficiency?

It’s not rocket science, folks. There is only one way. We must provide our teachers with enough classroom helpers to teach these students, one-on-one, how to read — again, just as you learned how to do it. For 10 years after retiring in Athens, I volunteered as a tutor in one of Clarke County’s similarly underperforming schools until I couldn’t do it any longer. In that time, I taught scores of these students how to read English. The problem: There were hundreds more of them in just that one school, just as is now the case here in Gainesville!

So let’s please stop the useless, wasteful, ineffective dialogue and arguments about meaningless instructional terminology. Instead, let’s find ways to provide our dedicated teachers with enough classroom helpers to do this essential job the only way it can, or ever will, be done. 

Long-term, doing this now will turn out to be immensely cheaper than the cost of continuing to expand our criminal justice and prison systems to deal with the inevitable consequences of our failure to fix the problem first encountered in classrooms. That’s not counting the students’ lost lifetimes of economic contributions if inadequately educated, or loss of our societal humanity as we allow this tragedy to continue unresolved. 

Ken Justice


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