Required Reading

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

International Literacy Day

We all know the joke about what assume means. Well most of us assume that everyone else is literate. As a matter of fact in my home county there are 60,000 functionally illiterate people. That is a correct number and everyone I have mentioned that to has been astounded. Bucks County is an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. We are not a 3rd world country. We have a terrific county wide library system and yet look at that number.

What does illiteracy mean? It means you can't read the instructions on a gas pump. You can read the want ads in the paper which leads to your being unemployed. It often means anger and frustration. A large number of incarcerated folks are illiterate but not stupid. Being treated as if you are stupid tends to encourage some people to violence and aggression. Illiteracy doesn't just mean you can't sit down and read a book, it means your entire way of life is impacted negatively.

Now ponder not an affluent suburb but a third world country where illiteracy may be at 90% or more. You don't need to read to pull yourself up by your bootstraps but if you intend to do anything but lift your body, literacy is crucial.

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. It was first celebrated in 1966. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. Celebrations take place around the world. Some 774 million adults lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women; 72.1 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.


Liggy said...

That's definitely still surprisingly high of a number of illiterate folks for your area. What is the high school graduation rate in comparison? Is the illiteracy rate high because there are not enough people completing their education? I wonder, too, if there are conditions (dyslexia, for instance) that may be affecting a large number of these people.

ibdragon said...

Amazingly enough, Bucks County, PA is one of the more affluent areas in the state, let alone the nation. Until I was involved with VITA, a literacy group, I was blithely ignorant of the number of functionally illiterate folks in an environment that belies the statistics. I am sure that a wide variety of disorders impacts the dreadful number in addition to the fact that economic deprivation generally leads to less investment in the school systems and a resultant failure in early literacy education. One of the more sobering meetings I attended involved several prisoners in the county prison describing their experience with the VITA program. A very hardened looking thirty something explained how people treat you like you are stupid if you can’t read and that breeds anger and aggression. He was very proud of his progress in the program and how he was finally at a 5th grade reading level. He told us how he had just finished reading his first book, ever! He also told us that he was really expressing his concerns to his wife, how important reading is and to work with his 4 year old daughter so she didn’t end up in the same place (prison) as he was. Illiteracy is not just a problem in third world nations, it is a problem here in our own home towns.