“A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up his children without surrounding them with books,” said renowned educational activist and reformer Horace Mann. The summer before my freshman year, I was tasked with tutoring underserved youth at a nearby community center. Though bright-eyed and enthusiastic, these fourth graders were struggling to read even first grade-level stories. As each trudged painstakingly to pronounce every syllable, blatant frustration pervaded their faces. Instinctively, I made every effort to assist them in their reading, often spoon-feeding the words with which they wrestled. However, as one student after another battled through these simple texts, my heart sank at the realization that just miles from my comfortable suburb, there were children, soon entering middle school, without the ability to adequately read.
As a student embarking on my high school career, I felt a sense of injustice. Why was it that I had had the opportunity to read at an early age and receive advanced instruction while others, so close to me in proximity, did not? Further, if a community adjacent to Rye and Manhattan’s affluent suburbs faces such challenges with children’s literacy, what does this imply for even lower-income areas? My hometown, Rye, is a comfortable suburb, with highly regarded literacy programs and education systems, ranging from pre-school through high school. By bleak contrast, the South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the country, and maintains inadequate literacy programs for the many impoverished children it contains. Research has revealed a stark disparity between literacy rates and programs for children, in Rye and the South Bronx, respectively.
Underserved children, under the age of nine, who lack access to an adequate education, suffer sociological and economic situations that drive them to deficiency in reading ability. Empirical evidence and statistical analysis on both the Rye and South Bronx communities evidence that these circumstances are often unintended, rather self-created; and therefore, children in such impoverished families become products of their own environment.
Having committed myself to spending time addressing this core issue, I have realized that literacy is a worldwide problem, the South Bronx representing only one district suffering from a lack of children’s educational resources. An imbalance in such educational resources and literacy standards negatively impacts the welfare of the nation, and the world (Reach Out and Read). Actor, Author, and Activist Hill Harper comments on this negative impact, saying, “Every year, the US spends half of a trillion dollars on education, and the bottom line is, outcomes for children are not improving. Third grade reading rates are stagnating…Our students continue to fall behind their peers, around the world,” (Harper). Reach Out and Read CEO Early Martin Phalen adds, “We need to invest in children...