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FOCUS ON THE FAMILY with Dr. James Dobson

TEACHING CHILDREN TO READ IS OUR SCHOOLS' NO. 1 PRIORITY

QUESTION: Schools are asked to accomplish many things on behalf of our kids today. What part of the curriculum would you give the greatest priority?

DR. DOBSON: Schools that try to do everything may wind up doing very little. That's why I believe we should give priority to the academic fundamentals -- what used to be called "readin', writin', and 'rithmetic." Of those three, the most important is basic literacy. An appalling number of students graduating from high school can't even read the employment page of the newspaper or comprehend an elementary book. Every one of those young men and women will suffer years of pain and embarrassment because of our failure. That misery starts at a very young age.

A 10th-grade boy was once referred to me because he was dropping out of school. I asked why he was quitting, and he said with great passion: "I've been miserable since first grade. I've felt embarrassed and stupid every year. I've had to stand up and read, but I can't even understand a second-grade book. You people have had your last laugh at me. I'm getting out." I told him I didn't blame him for the way he felt. His suffering was our responsibility.

Teaching children to read should be "job one" for educators. Giving boys and girls that basic skill is the foundation on which other learning is built. Unfortunately, millions of young people are still functionally illiterate after completing 12 years of schooling and receiving high school diplomas. There is no excuse for this failure.

Research shows that every student, with very few exceptions, can be taught to read if the task is approached creatively and individually. Admittedly, some can't learn in group settings because their minds wander and they don't ask questions as readily. They require one-on-one instruction from trained reading specialists. It is expensive for schools to support these remedial teachers, but no expenditure would be more helpful. Special techniques, teaching machines and behavior modification techniques can work in individual cases.

Whatever is required, we must provide it. Furthermore, the sooner this help can be given, the better for the emotional and academic well-being of the child. By the fourth or fifth grades, he or she has already suffered the humiliation of reading failure.

QUESTION: We need a little more income to make it in my family, but I have preschool children and don't want to seek employment outside the home. Is there an alternative for me to pursue?

DR. DOBSON: You might want to consider building a home-based business that can be done while taking care of your children and keeping your sanity. Among the possibilities are catering, desktop publishing, pet grooming, sewing, consulting, transcribing legal documents or even mail-order sales.

Choosing which business is right for you is the first of three practical steps suggested by Donna Partow, author of the book "Homemade Business" ($6, Focus on the Family Publishing). You can start your own enterprise by taking a personal skills and interests inventory to identify your particular abilities and what you might like doing the best. The second step is to do your homework. Begin by asking your librarian to help you research your chosen field. Check out books, magazines and newspaper articles. Talk to other people who have done what you'd like to do. Join an industry organization and a network of like-minded people. Subscribe to industry publications.

According to Mrs. Partow, the third step is to marshal as much support as you can. Get your children, your spouse and your friends on your side. Setting up a small business can be stressful, and you'll need as much encouragement as you can get. If you've been torn between family and finances, having a home-based business may turn out to be the best of both worlds.

Dr. Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, CO. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from "The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide," published by Tyndale House.

COPYRIGHT 2005 JAMES DOBSON INC.


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