Read to be Ready is a statewide reading initiative focused on early grades. The Tennessee Department of Education describes the importance of the initiative this way:
Tennessee has made tremendous gains in student performance over the past several years – except in reading. Despite our educators’ best efforts, reading skills in elementary school learners have failed to improve, and in some cases have even declined. But these abilities are some of the most important ones our students need, and they are foundational to their success.
In discussing the urgency around improving reading results, the DOE says:
We have different vision for the future. We not only want to teach our children to read – we want to develop them into the thinkers, problem-solvers, lifelong learners, and future leaders of Tennessee. And it will take all of us to get there.
All of this sounds great — and reading is certainly very important for all students. Here’s a rubric for a first grade end-of-unit task:
Now, let’s imagine what would happen if first-graders gave honest answers in this brochure. For example, let’s think about the section that “explains the responsibilities of different leaders in Tennessee’s government.”
A first grade student from Franklin might write:
My state representative is Glen Casada. He used to be the Speaker with the big gavel. Then, he resigned because he framed a civil rights activist. He also hired a Chief of Staff who did cocaine on his desk at 10 AM on a Tuesday and had sex in a hot chicken restaurant for about a minute.
Meanwhile, a first-grader from Waynesboro could note:
My state representative is David Byrd. He was a teacher who admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with his students. They let him keep teaching and he even chaired a committee on education policy. People here re-elected him because he goes to the nice church and has the letter “R” after his name. I’ve heard he’s friends with a guy named Casada.
Over in Hohenwald, students in first grade could laud the exploits of state Senator Joey Hensley:
My Senator has been married four times and he got in trouble because he liked a girl who was also his second cousin. He even gave her drugs.
In Cleveland, a first grader might say:
My Congressman is a man named Scott Desjarlais. He’s had many mistresses and even though he says he’s “Pro-Life,” he’s supported abortions for the women he sleeps with.
Anywhere in Tennessee, first-graders could suggest:
Tennessee’s Governor is a man named Bill Lee who fixes air conditioners. He likes to wear plaid shirts a lot and pretend to care about rural Tennessee — like where I live. But, he’s supporting plans to underfund rural schools by sending money to vouchers. He also doesn’t seem to mind that hospitals all across our state are closing.
When discussing all the things Tennessee produces, students might say:
Our state is a national leader. We’re the best in rural hospital closures, we have the highest rate of medical debt, and we have more people working at the minimum wage (like my parents) than anywhere else.
We’re first in a lot of categories like that. We also do a lot to make sure it’s difficult for people to vote.
Oh, and 21 of our counties don’t even have an emergency room — that must be great, to not have any emergencies there.
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