Edu-Wednesday: Books Before Pencils

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Guest Post by Reynaldo Macias (@ReynaldoMacias)

There were books in my parents’ bedroom. There were books in my parents’ office.  There were books on my nightstand with pictures in them before I could read, and books with words and pictures after I learned.  I learned to speak when Winnie the Pooh asked Christopher Robin for some honey, sounding out the words to make sense of the pictures, or the other way around (I’m not sure). And my parents read to me at night, sending me to sleep with language and pictures that I made up to see what they were reading. The input was more important than the output before I went to school.

Necesitamos poner libros en las manos de todos los niños Latinos, Americanos y Latino Americanos, también, y aún más temprano.  Early childhood education begins before children set foot in school, before they pick up a pencil. It is the basis for, and a strong indicator of, academic success as they get older. With “less than half [of Latino children] enrolled in any early learning program”[1] we are sending them into schools underprepared to learn, without the language to articulate their difficulties.  And, on top of this, there are other forces standing directly in their way once they arrive.

In her book, The Latino Education Crisis, Patricia Gándara examines the structural and societal obstacles to educating Latinos in the United States.  From political pogroms like Arizona’s attack on the Tucson Unified School District’s highly successful Mexican American Studies program, to the current vilification of illegal and legal immigrants (read: Latinos) in state legislatures across the country, Latino children’s educations are being thwarted with devastating impact. “Only about half earn their high school diploma on time; [and] those who do complete high school are only half as likely as their peers to be prepared for college,”[2] and “only 12 percent of Latino students are completing a Bachelor of Arts degree.”[3]

The Obama Administration has begun to address the external obstacles.  The Department of Education and the White House recently coauthored a report “Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community” which identified not only the status of education amongst Latinos, but also begins to at least articulate changes in the structure of public education to benefit them as well.  And in Tucson, current Latino students are using the oldest method of expression, direct protest, to stop people interested in the demise of Latino education.

Politically, those of us in advanced years, having matriculated from educational institutions or simply left them, need to begin cultivating candidates and politicians like President Obama, of whatever political affiliation, who understand the importance of giving Latino children a Head Start, and making sure that those early childhood education programs are financially accessible.

Most importantly, though, and most immediate, is we need to get them books.  Books with pictures before they can read.  Books with pictures and words after.  Books in English and books in Spanish.  Books before pencils. The input is more important that the output before they go to school. Books.



Reynaldo A. Macías teaches history, politics, citizenship, technology and public speaking in Southern California. In his spare time, he writes political analysis and commentary focusing on the recovery of the United States, and the continuing struggle of the American populace to reconcile the present circumstance with the ideals envisioned and codified by the founding documents of the United States on his blog. A graduate of both the University of California, Los Angeles and Brown University, Reynaldo has been an educator and published author for the last fifteen years. When not writing lesson plans or peeling back the layers of modern patriotism, Reynaldo also prides himself an amateur photographer and aspiring novelist.

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