Point/Counterpoint: Reading well or prison risk

By Dr. Ed Hollilday/The Rev. James Hull

Point by Rev. James Hull

Recently, the Daily Journal did quite a commendable job of dissecting the issues and challenges facing our state’s educational system. The one issue that stood out for me in particular is the one that links criminality with illiteracy.
According to state Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps, for whom I have the highest respect, there is a direct correlation between those who have a sixth grade education or less and those who end up in prison, largely on drug-related charges.
Knowing Epps as I do, I know this dynamic comes to him as no surprise. I also know that this issue is close to his heart and mind, and while he wrestles daily with the duties of managing the state’s prison population, he also ponders how to reverse the trend of “schoolhouse to jailhouse.”
But Epps is an administrator, he is not a policy-maker, nor is he a legislator. Except for a number of successful rehabilitation stories and his struggle to keep recidivism as low as he is able to, Epps hasn’t the power, the authority nor the resources to have any appreciable impact on the problem of dropouts-to-lockup among such a large part of our 15-24 year-old population. It’s not his fault that not more is being done. It’s the fault of our government officials, and ours for not holding them accountable for their inability to find answers and solutions.
The question, in its simplest form is “How do we stop nearly 50 percent of our student population from dropping out of school before the 10th grade?”
The answers have to be found somewhere beyond the limits of our education system but before the limitations of our prison system.

Counterpoint by Dr. Ed Holliday

James, you ask a very important question about addressing the dropout rate. Unfortunately Secretary of State John Kerry recently reminded everyone that, “In America, you have the right to be stupid if you want to be.” Every dropout in Mississippi contributes to this right to be stupid. Thank goodness some dropouts come back to get their GED degrees but many others never achieve proper educational skills. Their lack of achievement is often passed on to their children. A vicious cycle emerges and this is what Mississippi must stop.
I, too, thank the Daily Journal for its in depth look at our education problems.
I have mentioned in this column before that is one reason I am for a strong charter schools bill. What we have done in the past simply is not getting the job done.
Even in the most religious state in America we can look around and see that instead of the church influencing the culture, our culture seems to be influencing our churches. In our homes, most children spend more time watching television than they do reading. The famous African-American brain surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, tells us that his mother took heat from neighbors and relatives when she turned the television off and forced her two boys to learn to love to read. Never before in the history have we had so many books available from so many sources for our Mississippi children to read. But how can a child learn to read when he or she has a choice to play video games or watch television? Our children will not achieve educational success if they do not properly learn to read. It starts in our homes, but churches and civic organizations must develop new ways to maximize the basics taught in our schools. Early reading proficiency will lead to less tax dollars spent on prisons.

Dr. Ed Holliday is a Tupelo dentist who has written two successful books. Contact him at ed@teaparty.ms. Rev. James Hull is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at hullmultimediams@aol.com.