Last week’s launching of the Digital Public Library of America shows that the landscape of literacy in the US is changing. As technology advances rapidly, educators and researchers should seek new ways to use it effectively, both in school and in the home, to improve literacy among children and families. Future of Children author Jane Waldfogel explains that parents play a major role in children’s literacy both early on and throughout the school years. The value that parents place on reading and the degree to which they provide reading materials can make the home environment more or less conducive to literacy. Reading with children and discussing what they are reading are particularly helpful. Parents also boost literacy when they monitor and help with schoolwork, participate at school, and encourage children to read during the summer.
Since the Prison Boom, many parents – especially fathers – have been locked up and thus unable to provide such support to their children, placing these children at an even greater disadvantage. However, research by Future of Children author Kathryn Edin and colleagues shows that for some fathers, particularly those with severe substance use problems, prison may serve as a time to rehabilitate and even rebuild bonds with children. A crucial part of this process is education; the U.S. Department of Education reports, “To the extent that prisons are intended as venues for rehabilitation, education has an important role in prison operations. Today, over 90 percent of the federal and state prisons and over 80 percent of private prisons offer some form of educational programs to inmates.” The hope is that, as these fathers are released, the education they received while incarcerated will not only make them more employable, but will give them necessary tools to create favorable environments for their children’s literacy.
Supporting men and fathers in this reentry process is a major focus of collaborations between prison and public libraries, which some argue can help ex-offender fathers to overcome information gaps, such as the digital divide. As WNYC reports, many fathers being released from prison will need to catch up on technology for job seeking and for day-to-day life. In addition, these fathers will not be equipped to give their children adequate opportunities to learn to use technology. Gina Biancarosa and Gina Griffiths find that disadvantaged students are less likely to use technology in sophisticated ways or with adult guidance. To help narrow the gap, they argue that schools should choose and incorporate evidence-based tools for literacy instruction and systematic support for effective use of e-reading technology. One could ask if library partnerships and other community efforts targeting reentering parents could do the same. For more on this topic see the Future of Children issues on Literacy Challenges and Fragile Families.