I feel kind of weird linking up to yet another New York Times story, but I have a bad habit of reading the Times online every day. And I keep finding great stories there. Here’s one of David Brooks’s political op-ed columns that talks, for a change, about those things we early literacy fans always go nuts over.

Brooks thinks we need to be paying more attention to education right now, and less to gas prices. Read this piece, “The Biggest Issue,” and I think you’ll agree with him that the saggy economy we’re dealing with at the moment is tied, at least partly, to the sad dropout rate in plenty of high schools – and the even sadder job prospects of those dropouts.

We’re passing into a time when everyone needs to be literate to get a decent job, and most of the young people dropping out of high school aren’t. Brooks cites a recent study from James Heckman of the University of Chicago called “Schools, Skills and Synapses” (the link is to a pdf of the paper):

Heckman points out that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.

Of course, most educators, and most librarians who have been working with kids for any length of time, know this stuff. It sure seems that most of the rest of the country doesn’t, though. I’m amazed by how easy it seems to be to fund a war, but how difficult it seems to be to get Head Start funded at anywhere near the level it needs to be.

As librarians, we have opportunities to reach new parents that most teachers haven’t had a chance to reach yet with the message that literacy is important. And we can establish the idea that literacy is fun, and silly, and challenging. We need to be doing everything we can to encourage those parents – especially parents who don’t come from educated backgrounds – how important it is to read, talk, and sing with their children. And to use, and play with, lots and lots of words.

And come next year, with a new president, we can hope for a little more funding…

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