Improving Our Court System By Improving Literacy
I saw a quote today from Marilyn Jager Adams that said “Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.” I wholeheartedly believe in this sentiment. I developed a love of books from a very young age. Books were how I escaped my reality. I loved the imaginary fantasy worlds that I could find between the pages that took me out of the difficult and traumatic reality that I lived in.
Once I married, I began collecting books in anticipation of my future children. I collected children’s versions of classic books I had read. When my girls were born I signed them up for regular book deliveries and we read regularly. My older daughters were toddlers while I put myself through law school. I would often hand them a book to read and look through while I studied.
Literacy is more than reading. Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and solve problems at the levels of proficiency needed to function in employment, in a family, and in society. Our future economic success depends on an educative degree and literate population. Research shows that 1 in 4 children living in poverty for a year or more and are not reading proficiently by 4th grade will not graduate from high school. This statistic is higher for children of color. In adults, over 50% of people of color function at a below basic level of literacy. Children in foster care and the deprived and delinquent systems are also disproportionately impacted by illiteracy.
Improving literacy and access to books is key to breaking generational poverty cycles and helping families succeed. While Oklahoma’s educational system has standards to identify children who are not reading at grade level, Oklahoma still overall ranks at the bottom nationally in educational performance.
With high numbers of children in state custody, high levels of addiction, and low levels of scholastic performance we must make changes in our systems to help children and families succeed in life. Literacy impacts economic well being in our state, family, and community well being, overall health and education.
Here in Canadian County we have some of the top schools in the state. However, we also have small rural schools and economically disadvantaged schools. In all these schools we have families struggling to care for their children and basic human needs. To improve our county we must find ways to close the gaps in literacy in our communities.
As our families move through the Court system in deprived and delinquent cases we spend little to no time focused on true educational goals for parents and children. Our treatment programs are focused on the symptoms ( addiction, negligent, violence) of the overall problems but vary rarely on the problem itself like illiteracy. Often the root of these problems is cycles of generational trauma, low self esteem, lack of basic life skills, and other such matters that educated Oklahomans take for granted.
I believe one way that we can improve our court systems for our families is by helping them break the cycles that brought them before the court through education and literacy. Teaching adults and children alike to find escape between the pages of a book over a bottle. Learning a trade to provide for your family and learning how to plan for basic household needs are all things needed for these families and all find their foundation in a literate population. Our court systems can create foundational ways for families to improve literacy and reunify families with proper planning and foresight.