A new documentary about South Carolina’s low literacy rates premiered Tuesday as education leaders were warning that S.C. students are not graduating prepared to compete in the global economy.
“When the Bough Breaks,” commissioned by the S.C. Education Oversight Committee, was directed by filmmaker Bud Ferillo with the University of South Carolina’s Children’s Law Center.
Through interviews with educators, medical professionals, parents and children, the film explores the state’s low literacy rates, reading programs that work and the idea that reading is “all of our issue,” said Melanie Barton, executive director of the Oversight Committee, an education research agency.
Screened at the State House Tuesday, the film comes out as lawmakers are considering proposals aimed at improving student literacy.
The state is falling short of its 2020 goal of having 95 percent of S.C. public-school students reading on grade level, the Oversight Committee said Tuesday. Last year, 83 percent of third graders were reading on grade level, up three percentage points from 2012. But only 67 percent of eighth graders were reading on grade level, down from 70 percent in 2012.
Barton hopes the film will inspire communities to tackle literacy themselves. “A child needs that mentor, that adult in his or her life to be successful. We’re hoping to get people to rise up to say, ‘What can I do to help?’”
Ferillo, who also directed the 2005 film “Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools,” said, “Every child’s success or failure rests on his or her ability to read and comprehend what they’re reading at the earliest possible age.”
The film discusses how high-tech jobs require high reading skills. It also includes heartfelt testimony on the value of literacy.
In the film, Mark Knight, a partner at the Nexsen Pruet law firm, says he could not read in second grade. His teacher, Mrs. George, taught him after school and gave him reading-intensive assignments.
“At first, I thought as a 7-year-old that special homework was a punishment that my other classmates didn’t have, but, then, I realized later that she was paying me special attention,” Knight says. “She changed the complete trajectory of my academic experience.”
The film ends with a Richland County 15-year-old former gang member identified only as “Taylor X,” who could not read when he was 8 and began getting in trouble. No one knew he could not read until he began telling others.
“That’s one thing people should understand,” he said. “If you’ve got problems reading, start telling people.”