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“There’s an epidemic in America, one that is stealing the future of our nation’s
children, one that is suspending millions of adults in childhood, its name, illiteracy.”
– John Corcoran
The National Literacy Act of 1991 defines literacy as "an individual's ability to read, write and speak in English and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential." Many people are illiterate not because they did not learn to read or write well enough in school, but because of uncontrollable situations.
Illiteracy not only affects the one who is illiterate, it affects everyone. Illiterate people are missing out on billions of dollars each year because of their struggle in reading and writing, yet nearly half of people categorized as illiterate did not have the choice to miss out. Higher population causes an increase in poverty and poverty leads to crime, over 50 percent of criminals going into prison are illiterate. There is a lot more to illiteracy than being unable to read and write, Americans need to start paying more attention to illiteracy because the more literate the population the more advanced the world can become.
Illiteracy is a worldwide epidemic. The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations (Proliteracy). In the United States alone, four percent of adults 16 and older cannot read at all, 45.6 percent of adults are at a low reading level, leaving 19 percent of adults at a high level of reading and 31.4 percent at an average reading level. Based on adults who are lacking basic literacy skills, in the United States there are nine states that tied with the highest literacy rates: North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Minnesota at a six percent illiteracy rate, and Wisconsin, Vermont, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Maine at an average seven percent illiteracy rate.
From those nine states with lower illiteracy rates, the percentage keeps rising until California, New York, Florida, and Texas. These four states have the lowest rates of literacy in the United States. California takes last place with the highest number of illiterate people in the United States, close to one-fourth of California is lacking basic literacy skills. New York has the second highest illiteracy rate in the United States, with an average 22 percent illiterate. Florida comes third to last in the top four states with the highest levels of illiteracy an average 20 percent of the entire state is illiterate. Lastly in fourth place Texas, Texas has an estimated 19 percent illiteracy rate (National Center for Education Statistics). California, New York, Florida, and Texas all four have something in common with their high illiteracy rate; population. These four states just happen to be the four most populated states in the country California once again taking first place, Texas taking second, New York taking third, and Florida taking fourth. All four of these states have largely influenced our country, you never see people from Idaho or Rhode Island on the Television yet their rates of literacy are noticeably higher than any of these four states. Why should America be mostly influenced by the states with the lowest levels of literacy? We should be listening to the little states more often and hearing what they have to say.
There are many reasons why someone could be illiterate, but the two top reasons are actually very common problems in America: learning disabilities and poverty. With a higher population, states are bound to have more poor people and also more people with learning disabilities. Learning disablilities are a common cause of illiteracy. It can be helped, but not fixed and is not a choice in life.
One learning disability that is a common cause of illiteracy is dyslexia. Dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder, also known as a nervous disorder. Dyslexia leads to the inability to decode print. Many people believe genetics, brain development, hearing problems and cross wiring in the brain are what cause this learning disability, none of which have been confirmed. Dyslexia causes a difficulty in reading, understanding, and inept writing skills because of the confusion with words that look alike. Eventually, this can cause a person to be catergorized as illiterate (Pitts).
Short term memory difficulties is another neurobiological disorder that affects readers especially. Studies have shown that less skilled readers did not perform well on a variety of short term memory tasks, such as word strings or lists, doodles, and digit spans. Less skilled readers more commonly have a general laungage problem that results from inefficiencies in short term memory. Therefore, the more a person reads the more likely they will be a skilled reader and have better memory (Thompkins and Binder).
Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) is another disorder that is associated with illiteracy, and often co-exists with other disabilities such as speech and language disorders or delays, and learning disabilities like dyslexia. Those suffering from CAPD do not have the ability to pay attention to an activity when there are noises. The sounds distract the brain making it excruciatingly hard to focus on anything but the noise. This causes a problem while reading and spelling which leads to a literacy problem, thus increasing the illiteracy rates in America (Bellis).
Poverty is one of the biggest problems America faces today. Poverty breeds illiteracy because poor families are unable to support themselves; children are forced out of school to work. Poverty does not allow the equal opportunity for an education and/or skills required for everyday life. Without an education, children turn to crime or are forced to stay on the lowest levels of the work force and remain in poverty, repeating the cycle with each new generation. To break the cycle of illiteracy in homes facing poverty, a program to help these children and adults needs to be designed to get these people the help they need so our country’s people can advance in society. Greg Harman, a writer for the San Antonio Tex said, “There’s not investment in those who don’t vote, and there’s very small investment in the poor.”
Greg Harman’s quote is true especially when talking about countries like Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is located in West Africa and is one of the world’s poorest countries. Burkina Faso also has one of the lowest levels of literacy in the world. Only a measly 18.2 percent are able to read and write. Creating a quality of life happens not only through building sidewalks and streets, it is about investing in human capital (Harman). This is true for Angèle Sanoua, a disabled woman who lives in Burkina Faso. She has described how disabled people in her country are shamed and, in most cases, banned from school and considered usless. She talked about her family being determined to get her into school and made sure she always went. After getting an education she founded the Disabled Womens Accociation in Burkina Faso allowing support and help to educate other diabled women. She says that having her education has empowered her to defend her rights (Cool Planet). This woman is an inspiration to her country and has helped many women get educations. All countries should have education groups like this to increase literacy in the world.
Poverty is very much related to crime and these both are main causes of low literacy. Crime and illiteracy are based off eachother, nearly 50 percent of criminals in United States Prisons are illiterate. Sixty-five percent of highschool dropouts are criminals. A lack of education is one of the strongest predictors of criminal activity.
In Washington State alone, in the last 50 years, criminal and illiteracy rates have increased drastically. In 1960, the overall crime rate for Washington State was 63,688 crimes committed that year (including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle). In 2009, a record 266,242 crimes were committed. The population in Washington increased, too. In 1960, the population of Washington was 2,853,214 people, but in 2009 the estimated population of Washington State grew to over 6.5 million people. Now, compare the crime increase to the population increase and then look at the rise in illiteracy, each of these have nearly tripled. This shows that as the United States has expanded so has the crime and illiteracy rates. There is no doubt that crime, population and illiteracy are related, 50 percent of criminals are illiterate and 80 percent of illiterate criminals live in povery.
Reading is one way that will exponetially increase literacy. Teaching children and adults to read, write, and comprehend is not only an essential duty and investment in America’s future it is also and act of love (Corcoran). Learning to read and becoming a good reader at a young age is one of the most crucial things someon could do. Challenging your brain earlier in your life helps to counter brain-damaging diseases later on in life. Reading prior to the age of eighteen is also very important in predicting functions such as memory, attention and concentration. Reading at a younger age is just as cruical as reading at an older age. It can be seen when there is multiple generations reading together (Harman). Studies show that elderly people who read and play bingo often minimized their memory loss. Reading for older people helps a lot to strengthen bolster and hand-eye coordination (The Franklin Institute).
Reading everyday exposes proper grammar and sentence structure. Also, reading a different genre frequently can actually increase knowledge by ten percent. Book clubs can be very helpful and very fun when reading. Those who enjoy reading usually are in a book club to talk and discuss a book picked by the group. It is a great way to open up a person’s imagination and to aquire new information at the same time. Reading is a way for young people to go places and meet people. “Books can take you anywhere you want to go” (Tuck). Repeatedly talking about current reading improves memory and even increase grades for students. Book clubs improve comprehension skills and the abilitiy to interpret and think critically about text. Not to mention the fact that having a choice in the book makes it a fun way to empower and promote literacy development without even realizing it. Libraries and classrooms need to be able to offer books that speak to them and reflect the people’s reality (Luedeke). Reading a book that reflects something going on in a readers life is important because it allows a safe escape, and in most cases, offers a solution. Writing is also a very helpful way to increase literacy. Writing allows the ability to extend a line of thought without being judged, writing can also help with getting facts, inferences, and opinions without getting confused and without confusing the reader.
Lastly, a great way to really get help and to improve is to stay in school. Having the opportunity to go to school automatically gives the opportunity to ask questions and get help needed to advance in life. When a student asks questions it does not leave them behind unsure and confused. Being unsure is not a good feeling, it can even cause people to give up. That is why asking questions is always a great way to stay caught up. Not to mention that adults who do not finish high school in the United States earn 65 percent less money of what people who have high school degrees earn. It is said that highschool dropouts are more likely to end up on welfare or in prison.
There is more to illiteracy than being unable to read and write. There are tons of reasons, and most of the time the person who gets catergorize as illiterate did not have the choice. They developed a disability that slowed them down. Or the family could not afford to have them in school so they had to drop out and get a job to help.
Anyone should be able to get the help they need, and most people do not get it. Illiteracy is a problem that needs more attention because it is a huge issue and, in today’s economy, the more literate the population, the more advanced the world can become.
Harman, Greg. "Strike against Literacy." San Antonio Tex (2010).
National Center for Education Statistics. "State and County Estimates of Low Literacy." 2003. National Assesment of Adult Literacy. <http://nces.ed.gov/naal/estimates/StateEstimates.aspx>.
Literacy in the Media. Dir. John Cororan. Perf. John Corcoran. 2002.
Luedeke, Lisa. "Adolscent Literacy." Of Times, Teens, and Books. 2006. 61-80.
Proliteracy. The Impacts of Literacy. 13 October 2008. <www.proliteracy.org>.
Tuck, Justin. "Rush for Literacy." Scholastic Choices (2010): 5.
Bellis, Teri James. "Understanding Auditory Processing Disorders in Children." American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) (2004).
Cool Planet. "Disability and Education." 2002.
Pitts, Jonathan. Health Guidance. 2010. <http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/11478/1/Causes-of-Dyslexia-in-Children.html>.
The Franklin Institute. "Reading and Bingo." 2004. Resources for Science Learning. <http://www.fi.edu/learn/brain/exercise.html>.
Thompkins, Amanda C. and Katherine S. Binder. "A Comparison of the Factors Affecting Reading Performance of Functionally Illiterate Adults and Children Matched by Reading Level." (2003): 236-258.