Why cant U teach me 2 read?
Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test
By Beth Fertig
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374299057, 368pp.)
Publication Date: September 15, 2009
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Why cant U teach me 2 read? is a vivid, stirring, passionately told story of three students who fought for the right to learn to read, and won—only to discover that their efforts to learn to read had hardly begun.
A person who cannot read cannot confidently ride a city bus, shop, take medicine, or hold a job—much less receive e-mail, follow headlines, send text messages, or write a letter to a relative. And yet the best minds of American education cannot agree on the right way for reading to be taught. In fact, they can hardly settle on a common vocabulary to use in talking about reading. As a result, for a quarter of a century American schools have been riven by what educators call the reading wars, and our young people have been caught in the crossfire.
Why cant U teach me 2 read? focuses on three such students. Yamilka, Alejandro, and Antonio all have learning disabilities and all legally challenged the New York City schools for failing to teach them to read by the time they got to high school. When the school system’s own hearing officers ruled in the students’ favor, the city was compelled to pay for the three students, now young adults, to receive intensive private tutoring.
Fertig tells the inspiring, heartbreaking stories of these three young people as they struggle to learn to read before it is too late. At the same time, she tells a story of great change in schools nationwide—where the crush of standardized tests and the presence of technocrats like New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have energized teachers and parents to question the meaning of education as never before. And she dramatizes the process of learning to read, showing how the act of reading is nothing short of miraculous.
Along the way, Fertig makes clear that the simple question facing students and teachers alike—How should young people learn to read?—opens onto the broader questions of what schools are really for and why so many of America’s schools are faltering.
Why cant U teach me 2 read? is a poignant, vital book for the reader in all of us.
Beth Fertig is a senior reporter for WNYC Radio in New York, the nation’s largest public radio station, and a regular contributor to National Public Radio. She has won many awards for her reporting, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for her coverage of the New York City public schools. Her reporting on the September 11 attacks won her the affection of countless public radio listeners nationwide. A native New Yorker, she is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.
Author Beth Fertig says that as many as 20 percent of American adults may be functionally illiterate. They may recognize letters and words, but can't read directions on a bus sign or a medicine bottle, read or write a letter, or hold most any job. Her new book, Why cant U teach me 2 read, follows three young New Yorkers who legally challenged the New York City public schools for failing to teach them how to read — and won. Host Scott Simon talks to Fertig about her book. More at NPR.org
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“With the thoroughness of an excellent journalist and the sensitivity of a novelist, Beth Fertig writes about three young New Yorkers lost in the forest of illiteracy. Why cant U teach me 2 read? makes clear that learning to read requires also being taught how to read—there is no classroom exchange more central between a student and a teacher.” —Richard Rodriguez, author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez
“Beth Fertig cares profoundly for the students whose stories she tells here; she has compassion too for the administrators, teachers, specialists, and family members caught up in their struggle. Her generosity of spirit never interferes with her clear-sighted and rigorous account of the issues they all confront. Reading this book will change the way you think about the urgent, confused, elusive issue of literacy.” —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
“The notion that our nation’s public schools can teach every child is one that just about everyone can embrace, but it becomes more and more complicated when one examines the realities faced by specific students. Beth Fertig has given voice to real children who have slipped through the cracks in the New York City schools, and reminds us that even wellintentioned efforts by strong leaders to protect the next generation of students face tremendous obstacles. Fertig reminds us that we have a long way to go if we are to live up to the promise of giving every child a chance to read and to live the American Dream.” —Joe Williams, Executive Director, Democrats for Education Reform, and author of Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education
“Beth Fertig’s lively book is worth a shelfful of foundation studies on urban education policy. This is reporting at its finest, combining clear explanations of political and bureaucratic battles with compassionate, revealing portraits of how life is lived by the countless thousands who graduate from our broken schools clutching certificates and diplomas they cannot read. Fertig conducts a skilled tour through the great labyrinth of big-city schools, showing how they succeed, why they fail, and why lasting change remains so elusive.” —Errol Louis, columnist, New York Daily News, and host of The Morning Show, WWRL-AM
“Why cant U teach me 2 read? is a finely detailed picture of public schools’ daily struggles to get students with the most difficult challenges to read. Its portrayal of heroics and heartbreak holds valuable lessons for the ongoing movement to reform public education.” —Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone
“An NPR reporter tackles the often overlooked American illiteracy problem through the stories of three students and one very troubled school system . . . [WHY CANT U TEACH ME 2 READ is a] carefully considered treatment of a troubling subject that will be particularly useful to educators and policymakers.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Using the case studies of three impoverished students of Dominican descent . . . Fertig unearths some knotty issues affecting the scholastic success of inner-city students, such as English as a second language, family environment and, especially, misdiagnosis of learning disabilities such as dyslexia . . . An overall excellent, thoroughly grounding survey of the state of literacy and education.” —Publishers Weekly
“Public radio reporter Fertig offers a view of the crisis in education through the lens of three young adults struggling with illiteracy. Yamilka, Alejandro, and Antonio, all products of New York public schools, legally challenged the system when it failed to teach them to read, securing special tutoring arrangements designed to compensate for years of neglect. Fertig intersperses their accounts with the politics of education reform in New York during the mayoral administration of Michael Bloomberg . . . Fertig also details various learning disabilities and historical and current research on techniques for teaching reading skills.”—Booklist, starred review