State Reps. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) and Tim Scott (R-Charleston, S.C.) have introduced a bipartisan resolution to call attention to the national crisis of illiteracy, especially among African-American men.
“We’re here together in an unprecedented bipartisan way to underscore the importance of teaching our young people and adults the ability to read, and also teaching them the value of education,” Clarke said.
Clarke is a liberal Democrat; Scott a conservative Republican. Clarke said this initiative is a call to action that government, businesses, charities and families have to work together to help address illiteracy in our country.
“My particular interest is illiteracy among African-American men,” he said. “When you can’t read you end up dropping out of school, many times resorting to crime and ending up in prison.”
He called that a tremendous waste of young people’s lives that will also have a negative effect on metro Detroit’s economy.
Clarke also said he and Scott wanted to make sure they brought as many resources as possible — both nationally and locally — to address this problem. He said they will be working with other organizations to underscore the importance of literacy.
Asked what age group(s) they are focusing on, Scott said one of the greatest and most obvious opportunities is addressing adult illiteracy.
“Parents who are illiterate have a difficult time and a difficult challenge addressing illiteracy in their own homes,” Scott said. “And there’s no doubt that when you’re in the third grade, if you are one grade behind in reading, you are a third behind on the infrastructure on how to learn.”
Scott also said the first three grades are critically important in a student’s educational outcome, but added that if we do not address the adult literacy issue, we can’t get affected homes focused back on those early educational outcomes.
According to Clarke, we need to not only teach literacy, but also teach adults the value of education.
He and Scott decided to work together because of their own personal challenges. Scott had challenges in high school; Clarke dropped out of college and gave up hope of ever accomplishing anything. Subsequent bus trips to the Detroit Public Library eventually inspired him to go back to school.
His attention span in reading was very short at the time. However, he started reading books on famous artists. That inspired him to consider returning to school to study art.
“I believe it’s important to help educate parents and adult members of the family on the value of education, so they can encourage the student in school to stay in school and to learn,” Clarke said.
He noted that if we had that culture of education in our community, it would help motive and inspire young people to stay in school.
Clarke has observed that many times students drop out because of the frustration and embarrassment of not being able to read. Some who drop out get involved in crime as a way to make a living because they don’t see any other future for themselves.
“If we can help save our young people and provide them with the skills they need to read, that’ll help them reduce crime dramatically and directly in the city of Detroit,” Clarke said. “And we’ve got to have safe neighborhoods if we want to attract families and employers.”
Scott said one of the reasons this issue is important to him is because as a kid in high school who came from a single-parent household, he felt as if he were left out from the opportunities in society. He had flunked out of high school as a freshman, failing world geography, civics, Spanish and English.
“As a result, I thought there was no hope in my future,” he said, adding that during his sophomore year a mentor taught him that he could think his way out of poverty.
“By doing so, you open up brand new doors to the greatest society that ever was created, and that’s the society called America.”
It took him a couple of years to understand that, but once he did, he never let go of it.
“If we can do that time and time again, I think it will change this nation,” Scott said.
Asked if they are trying to get a specific law passed in Congress or if they are trying to use a variation of the bully pulpit, Clarke said it is the latter, at least initially.
“We’re tackling the fundamental issue in our country,” he said. “We’ve got to have the talent if we want to attract global capital to the U.S. Our people must know how to read in order to receive the training that they need to get hired into those good-paying jobs.”
Scott said this is an opportunity for us to come together on common ground, to address an issue that we all know reduces the likelihood of America remaining a superpower.
“To the extent that we address the issue of illiteracy, we find ourselves putting America right where it needs to be to remain the world’s superpower,” he said. “I want to say it that clearly, because, in fact, our educational outcomes will be a predictor of where we’ll be 15 or 20 years from now.”
Scott said the biggest roadblock the program — which currently doesn’t have a name — faces is making people aware of it.
“We need a lot of folks to gather interest and garner steam and momentum behind it, because at the end of the day the success of this program will not be what we do as legislators, but it will be what we do with the bully pulpit in encouraging and requiring and asking folks on the local level in people’s houses, neighborhoods, churches, nonprofit organizations and private companies to get involved to make sure the outcome of our educational system becomes one of the best in the world,” he said