Friday, February 28, 2014

Language, Literacy and Policy…What?

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It is quite something when a literacy enhancement drum you've been beating for the last fifteen years turns up in the political arena in a place you never thought to see or hear it.

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech about a new initiative he is starting called, 'My Brother's Keeper'.  The focus of this program is boosting positive outcomes for boys of color in America.  Organizations will be investing 200 million dollars over the next five years to impact developmental outcomes for this high risk group of Americans.

The idea for this program began after Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

In the President's remarks, he points out that we know a great deal about how people develop, and we also know that there are times in a person's life where we can have a huge impact.  Then, he referenced the 30 million word gap.  I don't believe I have ever been as shocked and pleased with a politician as I was in that moment.

Drs Betty Hart and Todd Risley are the co authors of an amazing text entitled:  Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children.

Anyone who has spent any time talking to me about language and literacy has most likely been subjected to my tirade about the the 30 Million Word Gap.  I mention it as often as I can.  I rant about the fact that we know this concept to be valid.  We understand how it impacts children, and still we do nothing.

Here is the abridged version of the 30 Million Word Gap concept.

"The amount of language a child hears and interacts with by the age of three has a huge impact on how successful they will be for the rest of their lives.  If we, as a society, would focus on communities where we know there is a paucity of language, we could improve outcomes for an entire generation of Americans."

After the president pointed to the 30 Million Word Gap, he went on to outline a litany of woes that affect young men of color in our society that stem from beginning school with a serious deficit that only gets worse as they progress, and leads them to fall into societal pits that often end in incarceration and disenfranchisement.

I am glad that a coalition of private and government programs are going to be focused on making better outcomes for young men of color.  I hope that they expand this type of programming to all underserved or at risk communities across the country.

As for me, I will continue my crusade in school districts, workshops, classrooms and residencies.  The first step is understanding the Gap.  The second is understanding what steps we can take as teachers, storytellers and parents.  The third is putting our concerted efforts into making sure that we are doing what we can do no matter how small our efforts may seem.

For me, storytelling is a perfect tool to begin addressing the 30 Million Word Gap.

I leave for Canada in a few days and I am notoriously bad at blogging when I am on the road, but I will attempt to put some posts together about the 30 Million Word Gap and discuss ways to intervene in that gap if you work with or are exposed to children.

I am buoyed beyond belief to hear the 30 Million Word Gap pass the lips of someone who might be able to begin addressing it!

Today is a good day.  Today is a day we all moved forward a small step.

Happy Talking!


  1. Donna,
    Ever since I learned about the 30 million word gap, I have used it any time I speak about storytelling. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

    1. We are all messengers when it comes to this information. It is always amazing to me how much we know and how little we do about most of it. I'm glad you're spreading the word!