Why Our Schools Are Failing: Part 5


Behavior Management: An Overview








Helping Our Schools Create Literacy Skills–Part 5  Let’s Start a Word-of-Mouth Literacy Epidemic


It is incredibly important that we understand, as Gladwell points out, that epidemics develop in geometric progression, not linear progression.  With each successive step, they double in size. The HIV/Aids epidemic started with one male flight attendant in the early 1980’s and now kills someone every 15 seconds. In Tipping Point, Gladwell describes a syphilis epidemic in Baltimore in 1995 which skyrocketed because a small number of residents became spread across a wider area of the city when their row houses were demolished. He also notes that yawning is contagious and spreads rapidly in a crowd. So epidemics are not restricted to diseases. They come in many forms.

Word of Mouth Epidemics

Word of mouth is another form of epidemic, one person tells another, they each tell one or two more, the geometric progression kicks in and very quickly the message gets spread far and wide. Gladwell recounts the effects of Paul Revere’s ride on the outcome of the Battles of Lexington and Concord as proof of how well word of mouth created change. Going virile on YouTube is the digital orm of an epidemic and often begins with one person’s posting a video.

We can use this same strategy to launch a literacy epidemic by following Gladwell’s Law of the Few.  We will require a few Mavens who could provide us:

  • information on instructional reading programs that are sufficiently clearly sequenced so that different tutors could teach the same student  at different times without duplication or gaps. The tutors have to be seamlessly interchangeable so that the student receives consistent, high quality instruction
  • inform us as to training requirements,  financial cost and of the results of any research on the proven effectiveness of any given program
  • keep updates on the progress of the epidemic and report their findings.

Once we have a list of proven literacy programs, we need connectors

  • to build a network of potential users
  • to launch the word of mouth campaign, telling their many contacts about the plan and encouraging them to pass it on. The more connectors, the faster the word spreads. The geometric growth of this activity could cause the epidemic to break out across the hemisphere.

Finally we add the salespeople, the ones who

  • would follow up on connections and actually get others involved
  • could convince someone to volunteer 40 hours over the course of a school year to teach a child a year or two’s worth of reading.
  • could point out that if you taught a first grader to read well during first grade we could reduce illiteracy by 35% in a single year. That’s because 35% of first graders are not taught to read during their first year of primary school. 85 % of those children become our next generation of illiterates.
  • could convince someone  that by solving this problem, we would be well on our way to success.


The salespeople would also have to overcome the objections associated with the sale.  Some of these are;

  • I’m not a teacher
  • I could never learn how to do that.
  • I’ve been out of school too long to do that.
  • I can’t afford the time.
  • I have more children (or grandchildren) than I can handle already.

We will deal with these objections in a later blog.  The salesperson has to be able to

  • deliver a proven program
  • make sure that the appropriate training is done,
  • arrange for client services to back up this new tutor
  • provide a simple method for keeping the results so that the new tutor can see progress or problems
  • provide a behaviour management system to get and keep the child working hard
  • arrange a place for all of this to happen and
  • provide a child who needs to learn to read.


Let’s see how such a plan could possibly work in our next blog.

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