Dale Chu, via a kind reader:
The tremor that you felt last week was the dropping of a new Emily Hanford radio documentary, “What the Words Say: Many kids struggle with reading—and children of color are far less likely to get the help they need.” Since she started reporting on reading several years ago, Hanford has kept up the pressure on the scourge of educational malpractice that is America’s approach to reading instruction. Her formula is simple but effective: gut-wrenching stories interwoven with science, data, and a just-the-facts-ma’am ethos.
Clocking in at just under fifty-three minutes, Hanford’s latest entry hones in on how early reading problems are particularly acute with Black, Hispanic, and Native American students. Unlike White and Asian children who often have more opportunities to develop E.D. Hirsch’s concept of cultural literacy at home, low-income children of color often attend schools that fall short in building content knowledge, vocabulary, and reading comprehension, a failure from which they rarely fully recover.
Hanford’s first documentary on reading, now three years old, explored how poorly kids with dyslexia are being served. Her next two tackled the broader problem of reading instruction failure, stemming from misbegotten strategies and schools’ refusal to teach decoding. This time, Hanford delves deep into the importance of building knowledge and vocabulary so kids can understand the words they decode—lest they start the path toward dropping out of school and being consigned to the criminal justice system.
Indeed, in a windowless cinderblock room at a juvenile detention facility in Houston, Hanford sat in on a cringeworthy reading lesson with a fifteen-year-old that had been failed by his teachers and his schools: