Dr. Gerald H Katzman suggests the road to literacy can and should begin shortly after birth and the role of parents can be crucial.

The Dec. 31 JN article “The Right to Read” was inspirational as attorney Mark Rosenbaum confronted a gross inequity in the approach to the education of disadvantaged children in Detroit. One sentence in the article, “And if students don’t learn literacy in school, they often never will,” requires clarification.

Indeed, the road to literacy has been found to be facilitated by a quality preschool experience. In 1993, Dr. David Weikart and colleagues from Ypsilanti published a 27-year follow-up of disadvantaged children who completed their preschool curriculum. There was less crime, more high school graduates, higher earnings, higher marriage rates, etc., in the attendees versus the control group (High/Scope Press 1993). The “Brookline Study,” reported in 2005, showed similar results. So, it became clear that the road to self-support and responsible citizenship can be facilitated by providing a quality preschool experience.

Dr. Gerald H Katzman
Dr. Gerald H Katzman

Interesting that the road to literacy can and should begin shortly after birth. Studies have shown that brain growth is enhanced when more words are spoken to children from infancy. Reading to children regularly is also helpful in nurturing thinking and language skills. Unfortunately, across the USA less than 50% of children are read to daily by parents.

Of great significance is the fact that literacy is vital for comprehension and the internalization of values. Modeling of helping behaviors will be effective when children understand the importance of being supportive of others. Reading stories with a moral and that teach a lesson will only transfer the idea of virtuous behavior, if messages are understood.

Most schools today provide human relations programs for children (HRPC). The goals of HRPC include furthering self-esteem, supporting virtues and avoiding vices, control of emotions, awareness of human similarities and respect for individual differences. Content of HRPC will clearly go “in one ear and out the other” if the lessons are not understood because of impaired comprehension.

To facilitate the early development of literacy, the role of parents can be crucial. It is the sharing of thoughts and feelings between parent and child that evolves into a trusting relationship. The child knows that parents can be relied upon for support and to model desired behaviors. As a result, mentors such as teachers, clergy, pediatricians and other community members may also come to be trusted as they transmit values and the development of higher levels of literacy through learning.

There are practical programs that can be instituted to promote early learning and literacy in children. Both physically and psychologically non-abusive parenting education can be incorporated into prenatal classes. Universal preschool is a must. Ongoing quality education is a requirement as a child matures. Such needed initiatives have been known for decades. Their institution clearly has the potential to result in a more productive and peaceful society. Unfortunately, with the present economic downturn, new vitally needed programs may be especially difficult to establish.

Dr. Katzman of Farmington Hills is a retired pediatrician who has been focusing on understanding and promoting initiatives that are most helpful in optimizing the psychosocial and academic development of children.