Thursday, August 27, 2009

RAGE-Adoloscent Illiteracy

I received a phone call Monday from a gentleman from Minnesota. Since I have redirected my focus from politics to child abuse and juvenile justice issues; I have been in touch with people from an organization called Invisible Children ( and KARA (Kids at Risk Action). Bob, the gentleman from Minnesota, is an active member of these organizations. To say he is passionate about these issues would be a gross understatement. We talked about a number of topics but one issue was particularly important to Bob (not to minimize the others)-literacy. I confess the fact that this is a major contributing factor to juvenile crime had completely escaped me. After our conservation, I decided to look into this further. Suffice it to say: Bob “knows of what he speaks.”

I would like to begin with a quote from the State Superintendent of Wisconsin regarding literacy. (

“At its core, literacy is the ability to read and write. While this ability remains the nexus of literacy of adolescents, additional abilities are needed to maximize learning in all content areas. In Wisconsin, we must infuse this core with the ability to invent, design, create, compute, and communicate so that adolescents can make critical judgments, solve real-world problems, and become productive citizens who lead rewarding lives.”

While researching the correlation between illiteracy and delinquency, I came across a paper by Lois S. Mohr-Corrigan entitled "Illiteracy and Juvenile Delinquency." In this paper, a series of studies and interviews were used to help explain, not justify, how illiteracy can lead to frustration and anger in youths. “Aggression is one of many emotions harbored by illiterate adolescents.” Their inability to express themselves leads them to delinquency as a means to release their anger. Michele Kipke, a source cited in the paper, explains how the pressure of being accepted during adolescence can adversely affect an individual throughout the course of their life. “…once shunned as an outcast for not fitting in, those feelings can follow an illiterate person around for the rest of his or her life, affecting every facet with its negativity.” It is here that teachers and other school officials can provide support to those affected. School is often the starting point for future successes and failures.

After studying Criminal Justice in college, my interest in the various theories explaining juvenile behavior prompted me to purchase a number of books concerning the varying theories. One of the books I purchased is entitled "Child and Youth Security Sourcebook." “Effective schools convey the attitude that all children can achieve academically and behave appropriately, while at the same time appreciating individual differences…Students who do not receive the support they need are less likely to behave in socially desirable ways.” Once again, the significance of recognizing and dealing with illiterate students is magnified. I daresay we have failed to do either in an effective manner.

While President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act gave the impression that the government was taking a more active role in improving education; it did little for the illiterate. Encouraging states to elevate their testing standards may have benefited those proficient in reading and writing skills; it exposed those with learning disabilities and the illiterate. This may have proven to be advantageous if the schools were equipped to address these problems but that was simply not the case. In 2002, $24.4 billion was earmarked for the new project. A paltry $1.2 billion was allocated for basic reading programs in 2002 which was a considerable increase from the amazingly low $286 million available in 2001.

Attending to the special needs of illiterate students has long been the purview of school counselors. Perhaps a portion of the aforementioned $24.4 billion should have been diverted to the American School Counselor Association. “Although ASCA recommends a 250 to 1 ratio of students to school counselors (WOW!), the national average is actually 475 (2006-2007) school year.” ( In the state of Illinois, the ratio is 1172 to 1!! Only 4 states have managed to adhere to the 250 to 1 ratio. Is it any wonder that thousands of illiterate children are allowed to “fall through the cracks”? Research has consistently shown that poor academic achievement contributes to crimes committed by delinquents.

In my conversation on Monday; Bob expressed his frustration concerning the absence of rage regarding illiteracy. His desire for societal rage; rage akin to that prevalent during the civil rights movement, is understandable. My research has opened my eyes to the blatant disregard for thousands of youths. The fact that this apathy has led to the incarceration of so many has certainly infused a rage within me. I would like to close with a quote from Michael S. Brummer, Visiting Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The link between academic failure and delinquency is strong…Schools are apparently contributing to the delinquency problem by continuing to provide traditional programming that…leaves many students, after six years of instruction, unable to read accurately, fluently, and effortlessly with comprehension…What brings about the delinquency is not the academic failure per se, but sustained frustration which results from continued failure to achieve selected academic goals.” Derived from Brummer’s book "Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential."


  1. Dean,
    All too often a young mans formal education begins in prison, they learn to read there and some as Im sure you know go on to become jail house lawyers or secure a skill for when they get out. Yet too many of our politicians want to cut spending on educating prisoners.

    Maybe some increased spending up front on your children would result in lower prison population to begin with.

    But such funding is a class issue, children of poor and working class family's are the one's suffering the incrediblly high ratio's of teachers/counselors. And are the one's who cant read or write. It is no simple task to muster the congress/executive to respond to the needs of poor and working people. Market values oft' undermine human values and there simply aint much profit in making poor/working childrens lives better. If we can find a way to make it profitable we really will see "no child left behind" but until then its just a hollow slogan. And the profits of the Prison Industrial Complex wont be sacrificed for the greater good of our society.

  2. Nice job. Lack of literacy is the root of a lot of evils, and failure to learn to read is one of the most easily overlooked problems with young people.