Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reading to First Graders as a Social Justice Movement

Yesterday I went to the United Way for literacy training. Well, that's not exactly true. I'm going to be a ReadingPal, which means I'll go to an elementary school once a week and read to one child for the rest of the school year. We'll be given the books (thanks Scholastic!) and the order in which to read them, and we'll spend two weeks on each book.

Why, on top of my already busy schedule, am I doing this? Through my social justice work with my church, I've come to know about the roughly 70% of third graders who aren't reading at grade level. It's a predictor of all sorts of grim outcomes.  For more details, see this earlier blog post.

But how to fix it? We've gone to the school board to request different reading programs, different pedagogies. As I've looked at the huge group of church people who gather once a year for a Nehemiah action, I've thought, what would happen if we all just went to elementary schools and read to children?

So, when our school president passed on information from the United Way, I decided I couldn't pass up this opportunity. It seemed easy enough.

And then I started having second thoughts. We'd need to have fingerprinting done. It was beginning to seem complicated. I almost cancelled my plans.

Luckily, I was going with a friend, and when she wanted to change her mind, I talked her out of it; she did the same for me.

If I ever write a book about the value of spiritual friendships, I'll include this example.

But I digress.  Back to the question of why am I doing this?  You might argue that if I'm changing one child's life, one year at a time, it will take a long time to save the world.

Let me return to the words of John the Baptist:  I am not the Messiah.  It is not my job to save the world. 

But it is my job to change the world.  Why not choose something that will usher in bigger changes, something more sweeping?  I don't have a good answer for that.  I just feel called to read to children, and I think there's value to an action that might change the course of a child's life.

For the past year, my suburban church has not been going to the inner city church to serve dinner--that program has been discontinued.  But I find that I really miss it.

I'll be honest:  I miss the feeling that I'm doing something, no matter how small, to make the world a better place.  I want to do more than send money to good causes.  I want to interact with people who need some human kindness. 

It's deeper than that.  I know that much of the Bible tells us that God hangs out with the poor and the dispossessed.  We're called to do that too.

An inability to read at grade level makes one a member of the permanently dispossessed.  If I can change that, even if it's on a small level, it's worth my time.

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