On the subreddit r/Teachers, one question seems to appear on a weekly basis: “Does anyone else have students who just can’t read?”
While the United States literacy rate is, depending on one’s definition of literacy, anywhere from 79% to 92%, 54% of adults between the ages of 16 and 74 “lack proficiency in literacy, essentially reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level,” per the Barbara Bush Foundation. For those still learning to read, the numbers are equally concerning. A 2013 study found that only 35% of 4th graders are reading at or above grade level; in the years since, average reading scores have decreased.
This can be felt in the classroom, as evidenced by the wide range of Reddit posts from teachers questioning just how students ended up in their current situation.
“I subbed today for a 7th and 8th grade teacher. I’m not exaggerating when I say at least 50% of the students were at a 2nd grade reading level,” reads one post. “I was asked 20 times today ‘what is this word?’. Movie. Excited. Trait.”
“I teach third [grade] and I have students who don’t know all their letter sounds,” claimed another. A third alleged, “I teach 9th grade at a high school. I have kids that if given three chances to write their names, they might get it correct once.”
Now, this conversation has bled over into TikTok, as evidenced by a recent video from TikTok user Mycah (@themmefatale_) with over 11.4 million views. They stitched a video from another teacher sharing a similar experience.
@themmefatale_ #stitch with @QBSkiiii ♬ original sound – MycahAngelou
In the video, Mycah, who is a 7th-grade English teacher in “one of the more affluent schools,” says that they’ve faced issues with reading in their classrooms.
“When I tell you that these babies cannot read, cannot write, and they cannot comprehend, I’m not being funny. I’m being dead serious,” Mycah says. “I have kids constantly asking me, ‘How do I spell ‘window’? How do I spell ‘important’?”
In the area of reading comprehension, Mycah says that students can be given a short story to read, and then be asked to identify the main character. The teacher claims that many cannot perform this task.
In a follow-up video, Mycah answers some viewer questions about his video.
@themmefatale_ Replying to @Pixy 🕸️ ♬ original sound – MycahAngelou
First, Mycah attempts to dispel the notion that this illiteracy can be chalked up to social media usage. While this may be part of the issue, Mycah notes that they themself are 23 years old and grew up with social media, and others in their position do not face these issues.
There’s some evidence that social media is not the cause of illiteracy issues. Earlier this year, the New York Times published a piece documenting the many problems with English education in the United States. One such issue was the proliferation of language teaching methods that were based on faulty science, something several states are currently trying to correct.
Back in TikToker’s video, Mycah further states that much of their work involves playing “catch up” for what students did not learn in previous years. This, they say, leaves the students several grade levels behind.
Finally, Mycah stresses that students must be given materials that they find interesting and appropriately challenging. If they are not interested, or if they are over-challenged to the point where they feel the task is impossible, they are likely to give up.
In the comments section, users expressed their sadness at the current state of affairs.
“7th grade I was writing three page essays and book reports and more,” wrote a user.
“I was a therapist for 3-8th grade and we had to just throw journaling our feelings out the window because it was a struggle to read and write,” shared another.
“Middle school cycle teacher here..6th grader asked me how to spell the word ‘chair’ today,” stated a third.
The Daily Dot reached out to Mycah via email.