Friday, July 5, 2013


I was truly saddened as I watched Rachel Jeantel struggle to keep any modicum of pride and self respect that she could as she attempted to soften her letting the world know of her inability to read by stating that she could not read cursive. Ms. Jeantel looked to hold on to just a little bit of self esteem when she tried to make the issue her inability to read "cursive writing" and not her inability to read words.  She did not say that she could not read her friend's handwriting or penmanship as we used to call it, which is maybe what she had hoped to convey, she said she could not read cursive which really meant that she could not read.

Many criticized or poked fun at the situation, but the truth of the matter is, Ms. Jeantel's inability to read is not a laughing matter at all. Someone or many "someones" dropped the ball including Ms. Jeantel because in order to be helped you have to seek it and accept it when it is given. The problem with this though is, Ms. Jeantel could not have been the only one who knew she could not read. Parents? Guardians? Teachers? Principals? Neighbors? Congregants? Pastor? Friends? Ms. Jeantel?  

It is hard to believe that in 2013 we have people who are illiterate and yet we do. I am writing this post not to ostracize or criticize Ms. Jeantel, because the truth of the matter is, it really it not about her; but for those of us who are parents; guardians, teachers, principals, neighbors, congregants, pastors, friends, etc. etc. etc. to read to our children and have our children read to us. I cannot overemphasize the importance of being able to read, enough. There was  no way as an advocate for reading and an avid reader, I could let this opportunity pass without taking it to encourage everyone to learn how to read and then if you know how to read, teach someone else how to read.  I also need to be clear that reading is not just about being able to recognize the words as reading is much more involved than that. I oftentimes hear children say "I can read," and then when I ask them what the passage or story was about that they just read, they cannot do it. They look at me with a blank stare. The ability to decode words is different from being able to comprehend the combination of the words together.  We must teach our children (and adults for that matter) how to decode, be fluent and be able to process the words in order for them to understand the information they are reading.

As an advocate for reading, it was painful for me to watch Ms. Jeantel because she symbolized so many people who will find it impossible to truly function in a society where reading is not an option but a requirement. Have you ever been in line at an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) behind someone who could not read or understand the ATM prompts?  How about traffic signs? Menus? Directions? The list of things that must be read goes on and on. What type of jobs/careers will the Rachel Jeantel's of the world be able to ascertain? What type of salaries will they be able to earn? It's all connected and reading is one of  if not the most important pillar.

I host a radio show on Saturday mornings where I interview authors with the hopes that those who are in the listening audience will increase their interest in reading. The intent and purpose of the show is to encourage people to read more. Reading can take you to other countries without you having to leave your recliner or sofa.  There are so many benefits associated with reading such as being a better writer to a recent report in Men's Health News entitled The Pastime That Boosts Your Brainpower extolling how reading now strengthens your memory later in life.

Please share this post with anyone and everyone you can to help get the word out that we MUST read. Talk about it. Think about it. Strategize about how you are going to help someone who cannot read learn how to read and comprehend. The new Common Core Standards will require students to be able to read and comprehend "informational text" and they will not be able to do that by just decoding words. They will have to be able to decode the words, triangulate the information, explain what the writer meant to them and then cite in the text supporting evidence as to how they came to their conclusions. 

This post is my little part in helping us to act to end illiteracy in both our children and adults. I implore all of us to read with our children. I implore all of us to have our children read to us. I implore all of us to turn off the television sets and every other electronic device and to sit down and read an old fashioned hard cover or paperback book.  Rachel Jeantel ought to serve as yet another wake up call. The question for us is are we going to wake up or are we going to continue to hit the snooze button. 

Something to critically think about and act on. I welcome your commentary in the comment section and you are invited to follow The Critical Thinker on Twitter @thinkcritical01 and on Tumblr @ You are also invited to tune in to my radio show The Reading Circle with Marc Medley on Saturdays at 6 a.m. ET on and WP88.7 FM. 



Pam Johnson said...

Get with the times! Cursive has been obsolete for quite some time. They don't even teach it in FL anymore. Unless you've gotten a hold to Ms. Jeantel's records, which I doubt very seriously, keep your stupid trap shut concerning her and mind your own business. Pick on someone your own size - like me!

Pam Johnson said...

Clearly, you don't like Ms. Jeantel's patois. She's gotta be all broken up about it.

Marc A. Medley said...

Ms. Johnson:

I will be more than happy to have an intelligent debate with you, however, if you choose to get ghetto, you can take that somewhere else.

I am well aware that the use of keyboards have almost made "cursive" obsolete as I am a school principal. You also do not know of what you speak because I am very familiar with patois as my wife is from Jamaica. The truth of the matter is Ms. Jeantel needs help and there is no shame in that, in fact the piece was not about her as much as it was about her performance to the world. I am not a betting man, but I'll bet if you were to check her FCAT scores, they would show to be partial proficient. We will never get anywhere as long as we continue to make excuses for those who need help for whatever reason. I am not looking down upon Ms. Jeantel, it's just the opposite. I work with children every day who cannot read and are not being supported at home to read in spite of all of the efforts of their teachers. Just as cursive is falling by the wayside, so is our ability to comprehend because of the abuse of television and other electronic devices and our lack of putting the time in to read books and other material.

I am more than willing to take you on and my stupid trap will continue to open when it comes to illiteracy. Truth be told I am one of Ms. Jeantel's biggest advocates by suggesting that she and everyone else learn to read and read well. As I said in the post, I am not talking about just decoding. Oh yes, we can have a spirited debate. I more than welcome your challenge.

Debra Buffington-Adams said...

Mr. Medley, I applaud you. When we see people struggle to read and witness their humiliation, its should move us to do as you have - we need to become advocates of reading. I am a back to the basics person. If our children never receive a firm foundation in English, which includes the phonemic alphabet with all blends, they won't be able to proceed successfully. Teaching a phonemic foundation is not difficult, its just a bit tedious, but totally worth it to see under-served children evolve into independent readers and thus thinkers. Its a joy to see the windows of the world open to them through reading.

Marc A. Medley said...

Mrs. Buffington-Adams, You are correct at both ends of the spectrum in terms of it being painful to watch a struggling reader and joyful to see the windows of the world opened through reading. In 2013, the shame is not from not knowing how to read but in not getting the help to learn. There is an abundance of resources to help anyone become an independent reader, writer and better critical thinker. I agree with you in terms of the basics. We still do need to learn how to print our letters and learn how to write and read cursive in spite of our use of the keyboard and computers. The same holds true for reading. We need to learn how to read books and then move to reading on the computer and internet. We keep allowing our technology to take the place of the basic foundation which really is the foundation for everything else. I think technology is great, however, we need to know the basics in order to properly use the technology. When calculators were introduced into the classrooms, we saw a significant decrease in children who learned how to multiply, add, subtract and divide. The calculator is great for speed if you already know how to perform the operations, however, too many of our children never learned the operations and depend solely on the calculator and when the calculator is taken away, they are lost. The same is happening with the computer and that is why everyone thinks cursive writing is obsolete. The basics of any discipline must never become obsolete. What happens when the technology fails? What happens when you are called upon to read a letter written in cursive? I can go on and on, but I won't. I thank you for your positive words and keep on being a "back to basics" person.

Michelle S. Hawkins said...

If you are a principal then you know cursive is not being taught in schools. My daughter is an excellent reader (she was the only one in her class to read 4 million words in a school year here in Scottsdale Arizona). Cursive is an other language unto itself. The first commenter that you summarily dismissed as "ghetto" was actually correct in her assessment of your article. American English is not this young lady's first language and she may very well have not been exposed to cursive. You state, "I are not looking down on Ms. Jeantel" but that is the tone and gist of your article.

I'd be curious to know your stance on immigration since so many Spanish never learn English, are given translators in court, everywhere else and never learn English. Would we get such denigrating comments? Or was Ms. Jeantel just to easy a target to resist?

Marc A. Medley said...

Ms. Hawkins, I am not going to continue defending my position on illiteracy nor my stance on immigration. As I stated, my wife immigrated here from Jamaica. I am also not going to continue to defend my knowledge of cursive writing not being taught in schools(which it still should be).

Your daughter is an excellent reader because she is likely to have had good parenting and modeling and a desire to excel in school. I applaud you and her for her accomplishment of reading 4 million words in a school year. That is a young lady after my own heart. Given that, you of all people ought to understand where I am coming from in terms of this issue of illiteracy. I will state again, I am not putting Ms. Jeantel down, if anything I would like to see her lifted up and learn the language and how to navigate reading whether it be in cursive or print. Did it ever occur to anyone why she did not write the letter herself? Why did she have to have a friend write it in the first place? You and the first commenter are totally missing my point. I will state again, it is not about Ms. Jeantel but unfortunately what she is the symbol of. Do you honestly think the worldwide audience gives a hoot about all of the things that you and the first commenter have raised? All they know is that they see a young Black girl who is struggling with reading a letter that she dictated and a friend wrote. It's not about the "cursive." I will also state again that I have at least 3 staff members who have overcome the exact same challenges of Ms. Jeantel and they are fine teachers. All of them migrated from Haiti. No, I am not willing to use the fact that English is not her first language as an excuse or a pass, not when I have seen so many people of all nationalities who have immigrated here do what they needed to do to succeed. If you carefully read the post, you would see that I was not targeting Ms. Jeantel as much as I was targeting her support groups such as parents, teachers, pastors, friends, principals, lawyers, etc. etc. Even the prosecutor should have prepared her better for what she was going to face.

Just as emotional as you and the first commenter are concerning the first language and cursive, etc. etc. is as emotional and as passionate as I get when I see folks struggling to read in 2013.

I am happy this post is garnering discussion and I truly hope the discussion will turn into further action.