PEN AMERICA STEPPED UP AS AMICUS CURIAE IN DETROIT-AREA STUDENTS’ ACCESS TO LITERACY CASE

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“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” Kofi Annan Kofi Atta Annan (1938 – 2018) was a Ghanaian diplomat who served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, from January 1997 to December 2006. Annan and the UN were the co-recipients of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. He was the founder and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation, as well as chairman of The Elders, an international organization founded by Nelson Mandela.



PEN America, a leading voice for the importance of literature in civic life, filed a friend of the court brief on Tuesday urging the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize Americans’ constitutional right of access to literacy.

PEN America filed the amicus in the case of Gary B v. Snyder, in which students at Detroit Public Schools have brought suit against the State of Michigan for their failure to provide the basic educational standards necessary to ensure that these children have a functional level of literacy. Within their suit, these Detroit-area students described the conditions of their education, among them: unsanitary and dangerous conditions, an absence of appropriate textbooks or even reading material, and overcrowded classrooms. As a result, many of these students are unable to read, write, or process written material at anything approaching grade level.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the students’ suit in June, and the case is now on appeal before the federal Sixth Circuit.

“Depriving these children—our children—of access to literacy is an unacceptable and immoral tragedy for them. It is also a tragedy for all of us that is and should be unconstitutional,” PEN America argues in its brief.

Within the brief, PEN America referred to two of its original research reports—Missing from the Shelf: Book Challenges and the Lack of Diversity in Children’s Literature, and Faking News: Fraudulent News and the Fight for Truth—to demonstrate the essential role of literacy in enabling children to become educated and engaged citizens, and to be provided with the opportunity to achieve their potential as adults.

“The complete failure of the state of Michigan to ensure a basic standard of literacy for these students is not only an outrage, it is also unconstitutional.” said James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy. “PEN America has championed the freedom to write and to read for almost a hundred years, and we recognize that this freedom to read is inextricable from the right, firstly, of access to literacy. As an organization of writers and readers, we can proudly attest to how literacy is essential to meaningful social and political participation in our communities. With this brief, we are urging the Sixth Circuit to do the right thing and to take this step towards recognizing the right of access to literacy.”

PEN America, founded in 1922, is an organization of over 7,000 writers and their allies, and the American chapter of the PEN International movement. Through the work of its member-led Committees such as the Children and Young Adult Books Committee and the Writers in the Schools Committee, as well as through its original research and advocacy, PEN America has consistently pushed for the right to read within various American communities.

The full text of the amicus brief can be found here.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. It champions the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Its mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”



 The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“What if our religion was each other. If our practice was our life. If prayer, our words. What if the temple was the Earth. If forests were our church. If holy water–the rivers, lakes, and ocean. What if meditation was our relationships. If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge. If love was the center of our being.” Ganga White, teacher and exponent of Yoga and founder of White Lotus, a Yoga center and retreat house in Santa Barbara, CA

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

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2 Comments on “PEN AMERICA STEPPED UP AS AMICUS CURIAE IN DETROIT-AREA STUDENTS’ ACCESS TO LITERACY CASE

  1. This is appalling and touches me personally. I was director of the Social Work program at a University in Michigan and we provided our baccalaureate degree designed for working adults in Dearborn, right outside Detroit. We drew many working adults from Detroit who had an associates degree and wanted to complete their undergrad degree. Most had some experience in social work and were passionate about helping others and making a difference – but most were very deficit in basic skills. They struggled and our outcome research documenting learning put these cohorts at the bottom of our seven sites across Michigan. They lacked the basic reading and writing skills to allow them to comprehend and use what they were suppose to learn in our curriculum. I drove two hours each way to teach in that center several times because it was a mission for me. I also hired an African American to be the primary faculty for that site who was really good and passionate. But we knew the deck was stacked against us because of the poor educational system they came from. Thanks for sharing this information.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is sad, isn’t it? We had some similar problems here in California. It always strikes me that anyone who invests 10-12 years of their young life in their education should come away with basic skills, the ability to frame their questions, and the know-how to search for answers. I think in our day, we did come away with that. We didn’t need to catch-up with remidial courses in junior college, which is what was happening in California when I was still working in social services. Pat, thanks for sharing your experience and insight. Valued.

      Liked by 1 person

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