The Integrity of Literacy & Education – Broken at the Core?

Recently I read an article by Sara Ganim, CNN, entitle “Whistle-blower battles to study literacy” where Ms. Ganim explains how whistle-blower Mary Willingham basically exposes the integrity of literacy among athletes, who had below a 3rd grade reading ability, at the collegiate level, specifically at the University of North Carolina.

I shared the article with my sports-loving husband.  Our views could not have been at more opposite ends of the spectrum!  However wide the chasm of our differences, our discussion allowed me to dig deeper in understanding my well-intended emotions after reading the article.

So, a bit of background about me…Whenever I hear about  an athlete choosing to go play professional ball before earning their college degree, I have always rolled my eyes in disappointment.  Why? Because it is money driven.  I just can’t believe otherwise.  Also, what are the chances that they will go back to finish?  Slim to none. I realize my monetary-driven concern may cause some to say, “Ok, so what’s the big deal?!”…Much like my husband’s response, “By that time, the damage has already been done.”


That statement alone confirms the skewed mentality toward the importance of quality education in our nation and the greater importance put on the money-making college sports programs.

But, my husband’s statement is true. The ‘damage’ was done before college. Long before college…so, the blame can’t be solely put on the money-making college sports programs or the universities, right?  So, do we go back to elementary or even pre-school education to place the blame?

Well, this is how I look at it:

Learning begins at birth. During years 1-5 we learn how walk, eat, & talk/communicate with others.  However; there are many factors that play into the development of a child before and during their educational career. A child’s genetic make-up, environment, cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development may be related to changes in brain structure or function, including brain development issues relevant to children with disabilities. You can read more about this in the book, “Brain Research and Childhood Education: Implications for Educators” by Bergen, Doris; Coscia, Juliet

There is a lot of information on brain research to read.  Most of the research I have read highly suggests that results of brain research studies should be considered in the development of curriculum and state assessment tests.

I agree with this suggestion 100%.  Why?  I teach in the public school system.  I see first hand the inappropriateness of curriculum expectations beginning in Kindergarten and beyond.  I work with the students who because they are not reading in Kindergarten or not meeting standards,  are made to feel inadequate by having to receive extra help outside their normal classroom environment.  Are there children that come into Kindergarten reading? Yes. I call this group of kiddos, the 1% of the 1%.  These are the students that simply “get it”.  They are going to learn things almost seemingly by osmosis.  I love these students!  However; the other 99.9% of students need to be taught in a systematic, appropriate brain-developing way.   Brain Research should be considered when developing and teaching curriculum. This is something that is ‘broken’ in our educational system.

Gerald Edelman, chairman of the Department of Neurobiology at Scripps Research Institute and 1972 recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology,offers a view of the brain that could influence the future classroom. Edelman’s vision of the brain as a jungle in which systems interact continuously in a chaotic fashion suggests that learners would thrive in an environment that provides many sensory, cultural, and problem layers. These ideas suggest that students have a natural inclination to learn, understand, and grow. Surround students with a variety of instructional opportunities and they will make the connections for learning.

~excerpt from article by Southwest Education Development Laboratory, Vol 3, Number 2

There are many claims being made for adopting brain-based curricula.  It simply includes exposing students to more of art & music in the early years, developmentally appropriate practices, emotional development as an educational goal, phonics training and the teaching of left/brain-right/brain teaching strategies.

There are some schools that are ‘catching on’ to brain-based teaching strategies.  This is encouraging to read about.

However; the education system in our country is being terribly compromised by the less than effective Common Core State Standards.  45 states are dealing with the inappropriateness of these new standards.

In an Washington Post article about the new Common Core State Standards, Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Education in the state of Massachusetts, a state with some of the most rigorous education standards in our country,  said the following:

Mitchell Chester, commissioner of education who came up with the idea to slow down the testing implementation, told Catherine Gewertz of Education Week:

Our system isn’t ready to deliver a college-ready education to all our students off the bat. I don’t want to get there by having students punished by not meeting that bar.

If Massachusetts, which has been known for having the most rigorous education standards of any state, doesn’t feel like it is ready to hold students — and teachers — accountable by Core-aligned test scores,  it raises questions about what other states can reasonably do.

So, in conclusion, the integrity of literacy among some athletes at the college level does relate back to the beginning of their lives and educational career.  There are many factors, stated above, that could have played a part in the lives of those athletes who entered college with a below 3rd grade reading level. To blame one educational institution or another would be futile because our education system in America is chaotic, inappropriate, broken at the core.  Those that are making these educational changes have never been in a classroom or haven’t been in the classroom in many, many years.  Teachers and students should be at the forefront in the decisions & changes being made to educational state standards, which directly affect curriculum and in turn, directly affects teachers & students.