She goes unloved at Salon: This morning, in the New York Times, we read about a 7-year-old in New York City who already has two literary heroes.
Delightfully, her name is Mikayla Capers; she lives in East New York, Brooklyn. Vivien Lee profiled her budding literary engagement, which we hope will turn out to be lasting, helpful and real:
YEE (6/6/14): Mikayla’s heroes are Harry Potter and the characters in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. After reading that she was a fan of the series, Abrams Books, the series’ publisher, arranged to send her a trove of signed books and merchandise. For Mr. King, it is one bright note in what has been a week of horror.In the “week of horror” referenced there, this young person was stabbed seventeen times—and survived. In the course of the attack, her best friend, who was 6, was killed.
(“Mr. King” is her uncle, Lemar King. In this earlier report, he was the source for this portrait of Capers: “She is a chatterbox who loves the Harry Potter books and 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’ ”)
We were impressed by the thought that this young person already loves those books. She comes from a demographic which often ends up on the short end of our nation’s punishing academic/literacy gaps.
Those gaps come early and often. Many kids who live in public housing, as Capers does, are on the short end of the so-called “30 million word gap” by the time they’re three years old! (For links, see below.)
Around the country, some are trying to address that gap, in the face of massive disinterest from just about everybody else.
We’ll admit we had an unwholesome reaction to this morning’s report. It occurred to us that we haven’t read a word about Capers from the various chatterboxes we review at Salon.
A search shows that Salon has posted three extremely brief AP reports about this matter, wherever it is they post reports they don’t expect anyone to read. But we haven’t read a reaction to this event from the site’s top salonsplainers.
We’ve read three separate columns at Salon this week about Maureen Dowd’s misadventure with pot. (In a typical display, none of the columns actually managed to explain what Dowd said actually happened.) The interest in Dowd’s pot use has been high, but no one has said a word about Capers—not even Katie McDonough, who does her highly entitled mcdonoughsplaining from right there in Brooklyn, the borough she shares with this child.
Can we talk? Salon doesn’t care about kids like this! It doesn’t discuss them when they get stabbed. It doesn’t waste its time on their general societal plight.
We liberals have a very hard time processing the following fact. But as a group, we basically quit on black kids a long time ago. Our “intellectual leaders” don’t really like young people like the chatterbox Capers. As has been clear for decades now, we don’t give the first flying fig what happens to them in their schools.
We prove this basic point all year long. If you doubt that, read Salon. Or watch The One True Channel.
Concerning the 30 million words: Where do our achievement gaps come from? In a remarkable bit of research published in 1995, Hart and Risley attempted to tackle that topic. They described a 30-35 million word gap which is in place by age 3.
Correlation is not causation. Beyond that, we’d assume the question is less the number of words a young child hears than the number of brain cells that develop in the course of her responses to all that chatter.
Above all else, literacy is the habit of paying attention and trying to figure things out. Some very young people get much more help developing these habits.
Back to the 30 million words: When this gap does get discussed, journalists tend to tiptoe around. Where could the ongoing research take us? We’d like to see that explored.
For a recent account of this gap, click this. For an NPR presentation, click here. For a lengthy report by Paul Tough in 2006, we’ll suggest that you just click this.
Can this baby talk research help? Not if nobody pays attention to what is being said.