Human Interest

Improving Faith And Illiteracy Through Design Thinking

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All day long we hear debates and news stories about education in America, or the lack thereof. No one seems to be able to agree on the right or best approach. Should we have charter schools or not? Are schools funded in an equitable manner or not? Why is there a difference in educational opportunities in the suburbs, city and rural areas? Is there a racist agenda at work? Do we make ethnic assumptions about who is smart and who is not? Millions of pages in research and rhetoric have been written, printed and distributed on this subject. Yet, the truth remains true. Illiteracy is running rampant in our country. As an educator I wrestle with these and many other questions concerning the miseducation of American children. Over the past 25 years, I have engaged in countless arguments, debates, initiatives and movements attempting to address and resolve the issues surrounding poor quality education for far too many children, especially those in the most impoverished neighborhoods. I don’t anticipate bowing out of the fight any time soon. However, in April 2018 I had an epiphany. Television station WDIV in Detroit, Michigan released a story sharing that students in Detroit Public Schools scored last in reading and math out of all the major urban centers in the country. Gut punch! I am a product of Detroit Public Schools. Most of the work I have done in schools has been and continues to be in that very district. I work hard. We work hard. The children work hard. What is the problem? God revealed to me that it is a spiritual problem and that is why we have not been able to solve it. Stay with me.

God left His most important treasures, His Word, in writing. This is a common belief amongst most mainstream religions in America. So, think about it. How can people learn God’s will and purpose for their lives if they can’t read and understand it? Reading is an important, part of developing an understanding of God’s sacred writings called scripture. Prior to Gutenberg’s printing of the first Latin Bible, the only way to know scripture was for a clergy person to read and interpret it for you. Without going into a church history lesson, I will say there were many problems and conflicts related to whether people had access to or the ability to read and interpret scripture. Fast forward to today. Bibles are everywhere. You can even buy them at the dollar store or download them for free on your electronic devices. This is a good thing. The problem is, far too many people are not able to read and understand the words contained in these books. “According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” The stats back up this claim: 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.” (According to The conclusion that I draw and have begun to understand is that if people are illiterate, they will have very little power to make changes in their lives. My father and my paternal grandfather, both were able to overcome illiteracy as adults and make tremendous changes in their own lives and in the lives of countless others as a result. So, no one can tell me that anyone should give up. It is never too late to turn things around. Success is God’s idea. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8). God has given us

scriptures so that we can have a roadmap to success. Therefore, we must be proactive about making certain we are able to read and comprehend what has been written. Obviously, if you are reading this article, you probably don’t have this issue. Yet, you do. I didn’t finish telling you about my epiphany. It was revealed to me that good Christians want to see everyone saved and living an abundant life according to the scriptures. So, why aren’t more believers addressing this obvious barrier that needs to be removed? We have been temporarily blinded. We didn’t see the situation and fully understand the implications. It is not good enough for you and I to be able to read and 32 million or so adults in our country remain functionally illiterate. We can’t have good success if we are the only ones excelling. We are all connected. We are better together. There are several things we can do to promote literacy and impact spirituality and success amongst our brothers and sisters today and in the future. Perhaps if we engaged in creative problem solving we could make an impact and get some real traction toward resolving this concern.

In the world of art and design there is a wonderful process used to creatively solve problems. It is popularly known as Design Thinking. It is not really a new concept, but it has been researched, organized and implemented in some very effective ways. Now it is being considered across many disciplines. You can learn more about Design Thinking at I believe it could help us with this situation. The steps involved are as follows.

  1. Empathy: Working to understand the perspective of all parties involved or connected to a situation. In this instance, we need to learn what illiteracy is like for those who don’t read well. How does it impact their families? What about their employers? Is there an affect in church? In other words, we must get a panoramic view of the situation to be fully aware of what is going on beyond the obvious.
  2. Identify or Define the Problem: Once you understand what is happening, it is more likely you can identify what the actual problem is. This is an important step. This step informs the question “How might we solve this issue?” Now you are ready to move to the next phase of creative problem solving.
  3. Ideate: This is another way of saying brainstorm. Create exhaustive lists of ideas and possible solutions. Be as outlandish as you possibly can through this phase. Resist the temptation to judge your thoughts or ideas. Nothing is off limits at this point. List every possibility. You can sort through them later for practicality etc.. Not now. Let it flow. You will be surprised what kind of practical nuggets of possibility will be found in your most outlandish ideas.
  4. Prototype: This is where you select a strategy and design a plan. Put something together from your ideas that are addressing one problem that was birthed from you understanding of the situation. Your plan will more than likely make sense because of the process you have submitted to.

  5. Test: At some point problem solvers must do something. It is not good enough for us to sit on the sidelines spouting ideas and solutions if we never try them out. Many people are hindered at this phase, because of a fear of failure. Failure if good, because it is simply getting you closer to a solution.
  6. Evaluate: Be intentional about taking an assessment of your efforts. If something is working do more. If it is not working, accept that reality and repeat the cycle for understanding and improvement.

If you was to cause people to take another look at this elephant that is always in our midst, but rarely noticed, I didn’t offer an answer or solution to the problem of illiteracy. I believe my assignment acknowledged in a helpful way. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) God is trying to get some important messages to the people. His message contains everything we need that pertains to life and godliness. So, we can absolutely increase the spirituality and success of our communities if we find creative solutions to the issue of illiteracy. 1 in 7 Americans cannot read this article. How might we…….? I believe the great Harvard Educator Ron Edmonds said it best back in the 1970’s “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to do this. Whether we do it or not must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we have not done it so far.” Be encouraged today and do what you can. I’ll be working hard here in Michigan to find creative solutions.





I am a speaker, trainer and consultant. *KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Inspiring the Audience to embrace their charge. *WORKSHOP TRAINING: Effectively enhancing the skills of your staff. *CONSULTING SERVICES: Coaching and facilitating your planning and management efforts.

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