Originally published on February 24, 2020 for the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education’s (CORE) blog. Linda was president of CORE at the time.
When I was seven years old, my mother and father brought home my newly adopted baby brother, Larry. Right from the start, I thought that he was mine and that it was my job to protect him and love him. And I tried. But he was not an easy child, and as he grew older he was always in trouble and sometimes violent, even breaking car windows on the neighbor’s car and hitting another neighbor with a baseball bat. He was angry all the time, but I didn’t know why. However, when he was in seventh grade I realized that he couldn’t read and that every day at school was another day of rage and embarrassment. He brought those feelings home with him. Not one of his teachers tried to help and my parents were at a loss, so I, a high school student and knowing very little, tried to help him. I taught him letters and then I did flash cards, and we would laboriously sound out easy words. Often after a really bad day at school he would crawl into my bed and let me read to him. And during those quiet times, he would ask, “Why am I like this?” I had no answer.
During high school he was in and out of jail and Juvenile Hall. It came to the point where when the police called, I would go pick him up and bring him home. One day I got a call while I was teaching my high school students (yes, I became a teacher). The principal handed me the phone, and an officer gave me the news that my brother had been found dead of what was deemed an intentional drug overdose. He was in the morgue and I was called to identify him. That last loving act fell to me, and that is why I cannot rest or be quiet until every student gets teachers who are committed to teach reading effectively, so we don’t continue to have reading casualties like my brother. It was February 1975.