Books: Beth Fertig’s Why Cant U Teach Me 2 Read?

Three students and a mayor put American schools to the test.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Yamilka, Alejandro, and Antonio are old enough to vote, but they can’t read. In Why Cant U Teach Me 2 Read?, Beth Fertig profiles these three young New Yorkers as they enter the world without basic literacy, following them for two years as they sue the city for extra help, get private tutoring, and make first-ever bookstore purchases.

So who is to blame for letting them fall through this massive educational crack? That’s not an easy question. To start with, Fertig’s subjects are among the fewer than 5 percent of kids with “hard-wiring problems” that make it extremely difficult to learn how to read (as opposed to the 20 to 25 percent of kids with “garden variety” reading problems). Fertig smartly pulls together shelves of research and animates data and theory with lively classroom scenes and interviews. She walks us through the “reading wars” between competing literacy pedagogies, but unfortunately none has a good solution for learners like Yamilka, who can’t hear that “book” and “cook” rhyme.

Are digital technologies to blame? Nope. In spite of the book’s title, text messaging actually helps Antonio with reading and writing. Other tempting culprits: Mayor Bloomberg and the technocrats who engineered the city’s recent educational overhaul, as well as No Child Left Behind and the never-ending assessments that are used “in lieu of curriculum and teaching,” as one school official grouses. But Antonio and Yamilka often blow off their tutoring sessions, and their brains stubbornly refuse to create the neural pathways necessary for fluent reading. By the end, it’s unclear whether we should celebrate or cry: After 1,500 hours of tutoring, for which the city paid $120,000, 25-year-old Yamilka can finally read compound words like “boyfriend.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate