Recognizing ilIiteracy
Image: Pezibear

Everyone knows that reading and writing is important. Most parents naturally want their children to know how to read, but have you ever stopped to think about why literacy is so important? Literacy is defined as “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” How many people in America today really understand the impact that being literate really has on not only themselves but also on society?

Many people, including politicians, are complaining that America is falling behind other countries in the world in everything from competitiveness in business to our education system. One reason why this seems to be happening is our low rate of literacy. In a study of literacy among 20 “high income” countries the U.S. actually ranked No. 14. How did we get from being a nation of innovators and putting a man on the moon to being ranked 14th in the world in literacy? In order to answer that question, we need to understand why illiteracy is becoming so widespread.

In this day and age of advanced technology that we live in, it’s hard to imagine that children in America are still growing up illiterate. We assume that every child goes to school and learns how to read and write. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong. According to the Write Express Corporation’s literacy statistics, “one child in four grows up not knowing how to read.”

That statistic is a staggering number and is hard to understand, especially since this is the year 2015. The Write Express Corporation has come up with at least a few reasons why they believe this is happening.

Literacy, they say, is a learned skill. Children are not born knowing how to read and write. Write Express says that most children who do not learn to read have one or both parents who are not literate themselves. Write Express points to poverty as one of the most contributing factors in literacy. Their statistics show that people who are illiterate are more likely to live in poverty. In fact, The Literacy Project Foundation, which also studies the effects of poverty and literacy, have found that “Between 46 and 51% of American adults have an income well below the poverty level because of their inability to read.”

Their inability to read not only impacts that person’s ability to gain employment, but it also seems to have a chain effect on not only their family but society as a whole. The Literacy Project goes on to say that “three out of four people on welfare can’t read. Nearly 90% of those same people are school dropouts costing our nation $240 billion in social service expenditures and lost tax revenues.”

Unfortunately, the cost to society does not stop there, especially when statistics show that three out of four prison inmates cannot read. The problem is getting so bad that some states, in order to determine how many prison beds will be needed in the future, actually base part of their projection on how well current elementary students are performing on reading tests, because they have seen that 85 percent of juvenile offenders have some kind of reading problem and go on to become adults who are unable to function in society because of their illiteracy.

As the populations grows, so will these numbers, unless we—both as a nation and a society and as individuals—take a stand against illiteracy and help to stop the cycle of illiteracy we are in. Nelson Lauver, motivational speaker and advocate for literacy, says that illiteracy is “a monster with its claws wrapped around the neck of our country.” When one in seven adults in our country are functionally illiterate, reading and writing at the fifth grade level or lower, our country really is strangling itself. We will continue to get left behind if we do not start trying to change the way we look at literacy. Lauver has several ways he believes that we as individuals can help with literacy and recognizing illiteracy.

“Forget Shame or Blame and replace it with Knowledge and Compassion.”

We need to realize that people are not illiterate because they wanted to be that way. Just because someone is illiterate does not make them stupid. It just means that they were not taught.

“Understand the signs of low literacy and pay more attention to those around you.”

Many people are ashamed and try to hide the fact that they cannot read or write. When asked to read something they may have excuses or shy away from filling out forms or other written material. They also may be very guarded and isolate themselves from others.

“If you think you know someone with literacy issues, start a (private) conversation with that person.”

You can try to open a caring and compassionate conversation offering your support. You can let them know that there are millions of people who have difficulties in reading and writing and that there are classes that can help them. The National Literacy Directory can help them find classes offered in their area. You can also direct them to sites on the internet such as Tar Heel Reader, which publishes short, easy-to-read books online meant to help adults who struggle with reading.

“If you work for a company where you suspect employees may have limited literacy skills, talk to your boss or your HR manager.”

You can encourage them to perhaps start an ESL or basic language class or to donate to a local literacy initiative or fund drive.

Lastly, in the words of Nelson Lauver, we can “slay the monster” of low literacy by becoming advocates ourselves. We can commit to helping at least one person come out of the shadows of illiteracy so that they can better their lives and the lives of their families. Illiteracy affects all of us either directly or indirectly, which is why recognizing illiteracy is so important. If we are to become a country that is once again leading the way instead of trailing behind, literacy has to matter to everyone.

For more information on Lauver or getting help with literacy, please visit



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