On Beach Hunters, cameras follow Americans who are purchasing homes along lakes, rivers, and oceans. At the end of each episode, the newly relocated stars of the show relax on their new patio that overlooks palm trees, white beaches, and an endless sea.
The haters at home, also known as the audience, sneer at the television.
“Wait until the hurricanes come!”
“What will those fancy wood floors look like after it floods?”
The smug audience (or is this just my family?), trapped in the hum-drum thrum of commuting, zooming, working, and sleeping, licks at the schadenfreude of the inevitable disaster that promises to destroy the happy homebuyers’ paradise.
“At least it doesn’t flood here,” the audience says as the credits roll.
Live in the Houston area long enough, and you learn that there is no stereotypical place that floods. Places that had never flooded seemed to have fallen victim to at least one of the following: Tropical Storm Allison, the Memorial Day floods, the Tax Day floods, or Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey.
Live in the Houston area long enough, and you learn the importance of flood insurance. For some, flood insurance is mandatory; for others, optional. For all, flood insurance gives the homeowner more options than someone relying on FEMA or neighbors.
Why does it take a Harvey to realize the importance of flood insurance?
What Harvey will it take to realize the importance of literacy?
Flooding, Literacy, and You
Just as there is a stereotypical “place that always floods,” there is a stereotype of an illiterate student. In college, I read Jonathon Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities” for a class assignment. In the first chapter, Kozol depicts East St. Louis in the late 1980s and early 1990s as 98% Black. About 1/3 of its families lived on less than $7,500 a year. Sewage inundated the yards of tenement houses and schools. At East St. Louis High School, supplies were outdated; even the football goal post lacked a crossbar. Only 11% of the students who entered East St. Louis High went to college.
When I was a college student, East St. Louis felt as far away as the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004. At the University of Oklahoma, I could count on one hand the number of other Black students in my Finance and Economics classes. OU is the true University of North Texas — so many of my classmates were from Dallas. And I learned that no one really lived in Dallas. They lived in places like Rowlett, Plano, Lewisville, Duncanville, De Soto, Flower Mound, Grapevine, and Mesquite. I didn’t grow up in extreme poverty and neither did my classmates.
When I founded Scholar Ready, a storm began to brew in my backyard. My colleague, Annie Harris, a reading specialist, teaches elementary students. These young students’ backgrounds mirror my adolescent students’ backgrounds. In recent years, she has said, “Jennifer, these children can’t read.” Her students were in the floodplain and I just shrugged, happy to have built my practice on higher ground.
Nevertheless, if it rains long enough in one place, a flood will strike. The sandbags of racially diverse students from middle- to upper-income families and gleaming schools won’t hold in the wake of illiteracy. Within the last few years, well-to-do students from well-equipped schools have told me that they can read, but they can’t comprehend. If an 11th grader can’t comprehend, then that student cannot read.
4 Reasons to Address Poor Reading Skills
1. Strong readers develop critical thinking skills to become informed, productive citizens. According to “Houston’s Adult Literacy Blueprint,” the crisis of adult illiteracy “challenges daily the well-being and prosperity of families across our city and prevents many adults from reaching their fullest potential in life and the pursuit of the American Dream.”
2. Strong readers are poised to perform better on the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. Each section of the exams — reading, English, writing, science, and math — requires strong reading skills. Accordingly, strong readers are poised to win merit-based scholarships. Granted, many colleges have become test-optional in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Nevertheless, colleges are still using SAT and ACT scores to award scholarships.
3. Strong readers can pass the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSI-A) and earn high school and college credit concurrently in Dual Credit Courses. A high school graduate could begin his or her college experience as a sophomore or junior.
4. Strong readers can excel on the TSI and other placement tests; these students avoid remedial courses. Remedial courses add extra time and costs to the collegiate experience.