I feel a little bit ashamed to admit it, but I really had no idea that illiteracy was such a huge problem in the United States until a class assignment got me looking into the problem. For those of us who are fortunate enough to grow up in middle class homes with good public school systems and parents who took active roles in our educations, the idea of people still being illiterate is hard to imagine. But the truth is that there are SO many people in the United States who are NOT in the middle class, who do NOT have access to good education, and especially who do NOT have parents who, for whatever reason- time, interest, ability- take an active role in their education. It is not the fault of any of these individuals that they were not given these opportunities, and it would only take a few interested people to step in and help a child learn to read. Such education could ultimately alter entirely the course of an individual's life. To illustrate the effects that learning to read would have on a child, let me share with you a few statistics from a study by the National Institute for Literacy:
- 70 percent of prisoners in state and federal systems can be classified as illiterate.
- 85 percent of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.
- 43 percent of those whose literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.
From this data, it appears that an important factor in determining the likeliness that someone will end up in prison, juvie, or in poverty is what their literacy level is.
While this problem is startling and shocking, it should NOT be discouraging. It is a problem that CAN be fixed, unlike many social problems we face in the United States. For as advanced and education-focused as the United States is, we should have an illiteracy rate of ZERO. There should not be a child that isn't taught to read by a parent, guardian, brother or sister, teacher, neighbor, or friend. We can all do something to help this situation. We can turn off the TV or sign off the computer and encourage our children to read. We can donate books that we no longer need to be distributed to those who cannot afford to have many books in their home. We can volunteer at our local library to read to children or to participate in one of many adult-reading programs around that help adults who did not have the opportunity to learn to read as a child. While it is a hard reality to see the numbers and to learn that there are so many who do not have such a fundamental skill, we can take heart in the fact that there IS something we can do. Illiteracy is a major problem that can bring nothing good to those who suffer from it, but it is easily remedied if we just all work together to help. Go to your local library and ask about literacy volunteer programs available. Spend a few hours a week with someone helping them learn an indispensable skill that will forever bless his or her life. Or, if you are a parent, read to and with your child. And finally, spread the word. Let people know that illiteracy is still an active and destructive problem here in the United States that has been put on the back burner for too long. Now is the time to end it.