Please Read, Because You Can

Posted: September 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
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illiteracyIf you are reading this, chances are someone taught you how to read. So, please read further, because I’d like to take a couple of minutes to step away from my usual writer’s neuroses and film talk, to address an issue about which I care a great deal: Illiteracy. I started reading at a very early age, and as such, I have no memory of not being able to read. The same cannot be said for a staggering number of people around the world, even in the twenty-first century. It’s really quite amazing that this is still a problem, and it most certainly is a problem.

Illiteracy means not being able to fill out a simple job application, not being able to read to one’s children, to not be able to write to friends and family members. It means not being able to read a court summons, or a sign on the highway. To not experience Middle Earth or Hogwarts (while good, the movies just aren’t the same), to not be able to learn about the awe-inspiring nature of the universe. To not be able to enjoy Lovecraft or Poe, Vonnegut or Steinbeck. To be adrift in a sea of communications with no compass, no map.

Consider the following facts about illiteracy in America, from Do Something:

    1. Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
    2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
    3. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.
    4. Literacy is a learned skill. Illiteracy is passed down from parents who can neither read nor write.
    5. Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
    6. 53 percent of 4th graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” while only 20 percent of 8th graders could say the same. (2009 study)
    7. 75 percent of Americans who receive food stamps perform at the lowest 2 levels of literacy, and 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.
    8. Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 who live at or below the poverty level and have below average literacy skills are 6 times more likely to have children out of wedlock than the girls their age who can read proficiently.
    9. Reports show that low literacy directly costs the healthcare industry over $70 million every year.
    10. In 2013, Washington, D.C. was ranked the most literate American city for the third year in a row, with Seattle and Minneapolis close behind.
    11. Long Beach, CA was ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, AZ, and Aurora, CO.

    I cite stats about the US because that’s where I live and I wouldn’t think to criticize other countries, although it is safe to say that this problem is not limited to any particular country or culture. Obviously, there is something wrong here; I’m not going to get into the politics of illiteracy, because no single person or administration can carry the blame. This issue is generational and cultural, as well as political. That capable residents of any country, no matter how few, are unable to read or write is an indictment on the failure of that country to look after its own people. That there are cultures and governments with a vested interest in maintaining an illiterate populace goes without saying, and it is only by education that there can have any hope of change.

    Most communities have some sort of literacy program but, of course, many of these programs are perilously underfunded and in desperate need of volunteers. If you have an interest in donating your time, please consider volunteering at a literacy program in your area, which can be found here:

    Pro Literacy

    The ability to read and write are fundamental cornerstones to self-sufficiency and self-respect. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading, and thank you to the person who taught you – they obviously did well.

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