How Teaching Reading and Improving Literacy Can Fight Crime

June 7, 2010, Angie Barnett

How Teaching Reading and Improving Literacy Can Fight Crime

This is one of the best stories I have ever read about literacy: “Preventing Violence By Teaching Literacy.”

The story was written by a girl who lost her sister to violence in 1995. At the time, her sister Melissa, was 22 years old and was two weeks away from graduating from college. One night as she was walking home with a friend, two teenage boys came up to them and forced them into a car at gunpoint. Melissa was shot and killed and her friend was badly injured, but luckily survived. The boys were convicted but the loss was devastating.

In reaction to this tragedy, Melissa’s family has created The Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment in an effort to decrease the likelihood of another family having to face a similar tragedy. The center serves to study and prevent violence through research, education, and community service. Through research, the center has found concrete ways to prevent violence and provide a safer community.

Currently, the center is working on one of its largest projects, a literacy website to help struggling readers. The logic behind this initiative is best stated in the words from the article:

Up to 80 percent of incarcerated individuals are functionally illiterate; studies show that if a child reads on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, there is a 99 percent certainty that child will never be incarcerated; school performance, more than any other single factor, is a major contributor as to whether a youth becomes involved in drugs or violence.

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that teachers are only required to take only one or two undergraduate courses in literacy instruction. If we are not properly educating teachers to teach reading skills to students, how can we expect our students to learn to read?

This initiative will save lives—the lives of potential victims, and the lives of children who are destined to go down a violent path if we do not intervene. Beyond all else, we want to prevent another family from receiving that life-altering middle of the night call, and from unnecessarily losing a loved one to violence far before their time.

The constructive way this family is responding to their tragedy is truly impressive. This story also reveals how important it is for reading curriculum to be effective and to ensure the reading success of every individual.

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