Literacy is a powerful gift. Reading gives us many things – freedom, knowledge and adventure to name a few. To sit with a book and interpret the words on the page is one of the most complicated functions of the human brain. In an instant our brain sees letters, forms words, understands the words, and retains for future reference. Yes, reading is a very powerful gift and one many of us take for granted.
Imagine you need to give your child a dose of medication to lower a fever but you can’t read the instructions. Imagine trying to take the bus to a new job and not being able to read the bus schedule. Imagine trying to make a bank deposit and because you can’t read, someone takes advantage of your money. These are everyday realities for someone who cannot read. Through no fault of their own, their brain is different and the complicated task of reading is beyond difficult. In fact, reading can be near impossible for some.
According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 93 million adults in the United States had basic or below basic literacy skills. 93 million. It takes my breath away every time I say it. What makes me even sadder is that I’ve been saying it for the last 12 years of my life. I am a reading teacher. I teach adults how to read. I’ve seen first hand how the lack of literacy skills can make a person angry, or cause people to harm themselves physically, financially, and emotionally. I’ve visited prisons where the illiteracy rate is higher (75% of inmates in state prisons can be classified as having low literacy skills. ProLiteracy.org) and heard stories about how being illiterate was part of the reason a person became a criminal.
Illiteracy is a major problem in our country and one that is not often talked about it. I’m hoping that changes. I’m hoping that each of you says or screams, “93 million adults cannot read in the United States,” every chance you get to whomever will listen. I’m hoping you seek out a way to help an adult to learn to read by tutoring, donating, or writing your elected officials. I’m hoping that one day Literacy Month really is a happy event because we are truly celebrating literacy rather than raising awareness about illiteracy. I’m hoping that one day I no longer have a job because everyone can read.
Note: Michelle is our dynamo Friends' Place Bookstore Manager, and she also teaches reading at Phoenix College.