Literature is among one of the great joys of my life. Regardless of genre, length, prose, or subject matter I have always had a general admiration for the written word. It’s hard to fully appreciate the intricacies of our language without the thoughtful expression that accompanies writing.
Beyond just the intrinsic beauty of language, in today’s knowledge driven world it is impossible to make any significant gains without basic literacy. Yet according to the Portland based Concordia University, “More than 30 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.”
Adult illiteracy is also generational says ProLiteracy, a membership organization dedicated to improved literacy and education. According to the organization, “Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.”
The organization also cites correlations between low levels of literacy and poverty, incarceration, health care spending, welfare, and unemployment.
This poses serious concerns for the future of our nation, as a lack of basic literacy disproportionately affects certain minority groups, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and oppression that has existed for centuries.
The National Center for Education Statistics found that of those 30 million adults, twenty percent were African American and thirty-nine percent were Hispanic. Over half did not obtain a high school diploma.
When comparing US literacy rates with international statistics, the NCES also found that the US had a higher percentage of citizens at the lowest level of the literacy scale than that of the international average.
So what are the possible avenues for combating this prevalence of low adult literacy?
One solution, although imperfect, may come from emulating schools in the Washington D.C. area. According to PBS News Hour, some D.C. schools have been offering free adult education and GED preparation in the wake of pervasive rates of illiteracy.
While these adult education programs have not been a sweeping success story, they do offer hope and support to those whose lives have been wrought with social and financial instability.
For the sake of our nation it’s important that we uplift the aspirations of the underprivileged. Although true equality of condition may not be attainable, the promotion of education is an immense step toward bettering the lives of so many Americans. Perhaps they too can come to appreciate literature in the same way I do.