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In the movie Stanley and Iris with Robert De Niro and Jane Fonda, a glimpse of the life of an illiterate middle aged man is shown. Stanley lives through very demeaning experiences because he cannot read signs, bus schedules or employment applications. Among other humiliations, he is fired from a menial job in a restaurant because the owner is afraid Stanley will mistake a container of rat poison for sugar. Eventually Iris teaches Stanley to read and his life and their relationship is headed for a happier times.

The misery of illiteracy or reading difficulties doesn’t wait for middle age. Children between the ages of six to eighteen years are almost wholly defined by their school success or failure. A child who has difficulties with learning due to no fault of his own, can become a disappointment to his teachers, his family and himself, and often comes out of the school experience with a totally ruined self esteem. A limitation in literacy will first take its toll on the ongoing academic success of the child and then on the future lifestyle of the adult. Not all people can be highly literate. But many children who initially struggle in school can achieve significant improvements in literacy with the appropriate interventions.

Public Education
It is only within the last 100 years that compulsory education for all children has become the norm in most countries. From that ideal has come the presumption that all children can actually be educated. Certainly it is a important goal, but the reality is that academic success is not guaranteed for every person and that a public school system with its limited resources should not be assumed to produce 100 percent success with every student.

A Child at School
There are two major factors affecting a child’s success at school. One is the personal compatibility of the child with the school environment, and the second is the natural ability of the child to do academic work. Both factors can be affected somewhat by training and hard work. However, it should be appreciated that every child arrives at school with a very different set of assets and handicaps.

Physical, Social and Academic Maturity
For school, children are initially sorted according to their chronological age and put into a class. However, just as all first graders are not the same height or weight, or don’t have the same strength, reflexes or athletic ability, they also vary considerably in behavior and in academic ability.

Production Line Education
The school syllabus can be just a teaching production line schedule. It is a necessary guide for the orderly operation of a school. It can specify what is to be taught during what grade, what term, and even for a particular week. Children are expected to keep up with the syllabus according to their chronological age, regardless of their abilities.

Thus if a certain set of phonics is scheduled to be taught during the third term of the first grade, the students are supposed to be ready for that. If a student does not have the academic maturity to handle phonics at that time, then an important part of literacy for that student may be lost.

Not only do the children start their education according to their age, but every step in the curriculum is linked to a time progression which assumes that the children will all mature the same academically.
However, because the students are far from being all the same, in any classroom, there will be a wide distribution of academic abilities with which the teacher has to cope. In any class there often are students with academic abilities as much as two grades lower, and two grades higher than the class specification.

A Typical Class
It is typical that 15 to 20 percent of students of any class will be unable to fully cope with the curriculum. Unfortunately, the vast majority of schools will not be able to offer the special help these students require. Typically these students repeat a grade or two, and then because of social concerns, are advanced to the next grades even though they are unprepared. These children continue through the system, and because school becomes a hostile environment for them, typically their behavior deteriorates, and eventually they could leave school before completing the curriculum