Why Half of Gen Z Can’t Read

by | Dec 21, 2023

Generation Z is criticized for many of their tendencies and limitations, but illiteracy reigns supreme. The generation born at the spark of this modern technological era will carry the weight of the world on its shoulders, yet what do they have to show for it?

As a result of government incentives and failed policies in education, 20% of the US population lacks skills in communication, reading comprehension, critical thinking, math, and literacy.

California is supposed to have the most progressive education system in the country, comparable to the infamous systems in states like Massachussettes and New York; however, their 8th graders cannot do math above a 5th grade level. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, literacy rates were steadily dropping for decades. New York City schools have been performing under the national average, despite spending disproportionately more per student and continuously ranking as the largest public school district in the country, spending $28K per student annually.

In 2013, 14% of adult Americans could not read above a 3rd grade level and 34% could not read above an 8th grade level. So half of adult Americans can’t read above an 8th grade level, not to mention this means that 50% could not read well enough to distinguish a phone number from a website with multiple links.

Generation Z is reaping the consequences of decades of excessive government intervention in schools as well as the adoption and implementation of failed educational policies like Social Emotional Learning, Common Core State Standards, No Child Left Behind, etc. Although many of these programs have been updated or renamed, their policies are only progressing in government educational institutions across America.

Common Core State Standards use fluid teaching benchmarks like focusing on the results rather than the means and use Balanced Literacy to guide instruction.

Balanced Literacy is a form of reading instruction that combines Whole Language Learning with Phonics. In the late 1920’s, American schools switched from teaching reading through Phonics to teaching it through Whole Language, so a debate erupted regarding which method was best. In order to quell this multi-generational debate, Balanced Literacy was implemented as a compromise.

Whole Language teaches students to derive the meaning of words through context, which students can’t do if they’re still learning how to read. So, schools are pouring money into programs that teach kids to literally guess what they’re reading. This is creating significant reading deficiencies in students.

Common Core has been a massive failure, and according to recent studies the math and reading skills of young generations keep declining. A 2019 study by The Pioneer Institute found that “the results of Common Core [were] remarkably poor.”

Common Core State Standards set the guidelines, but what informs the teaching?

Social Emotional Learning is the program via which standards are applied, including services like one-on-one student counseling with school staff members and strategies to target disadvantaged students for the sake of manufacturing equal educational outcomes. 

According to CASEL, the 5 SEL core competencies are “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making represent large categories for organizing a range of intra- and interpersonal knowledge, skills, and abilities.” SEL instructors “view these competencies as interrelated, synergistic, and integral to the growth and development of justice-oriented, global citizens.” They “consider each competency through an equity lens,” which is what they “refer to as ‘equity elaborations.’”

Notice the language here. What does the “development of justice-oriented, global citizens,” mean? The psychologizing of schools is focused on creating a collective of social justice activists. 

On top of inadequate standards and the psychologizing of American schools, failed policies like No Child Left Behind make students a commodity. Children become a number in a system, so even when the policy is updated, the system has already adapted to a politically-driven reward system. Students are harvested for data at every level and pushed through graduation whether they can read or not for the sake of transformative, political activism.

Is it any wonder why school districts across the country have opted out of grading systems and other objective metrics for student achievement? The participation trophy generation got off easy by comparison to what will come of this. 

Generation Z has been robbed of the opportunity and skill of being functionally literate. The deficiencies of failed educational policies and curricula standards ring loudly in the ears of tomorrow’s leaders, as they cry out for help. They are unprepared and anxious and do not know what to do about it.

On the bright side, these are all solvable problems, and help is on its way! Get involved by investing time and money in classical, community, micro, and home school organizations to create spaces for alternatives in education. American families will rebuild this generation, one school at a time! 

About the Author

Maria Wilander

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