USA Facing Literacy Crisis

The Librarian kindly asks you to F*CKING READ SOMETHING

The Librarian kindly asks you to F*CKING READ SOMETHING

According to USA Today, a recent study has shown that over one in seven adults are functionally illiterate.

No, you read that right. Adults. One in seven adults. Not children, not teens – members of the American workforce. Our fellow Americans aren’t able to read the text that’s in front of you right now. 14.3% of our three hundred million or so citizens isn’t some statistical fluke – it isn’t some aberration caused by some singular genetic defect or learning disability. It’s symptomatic of something truly disturbing about our culture and our education.

Worse, this isn’t a new statistic either – rather, it’s one that has carried over through the years, nearly untouched. The study that discovered this epidemic has shown that, between 1992 and 2003, we’ve since added twenty-three million more adults to the US workforce – three-point-six million of which have low literacy skills. In those eleven years, the nation as a whole has not managed to put the slightest dent in our adult literacy problem.

Why is our nation’s literacy rate so important – and so very, very disturbing? It has been known for some time now that, amongst the community of what are considered first-world nations, our country has amongst the worst educational standards and output. It has also been known for quite some time that we are most definitely a post-industrial nation – we are a service-oriented economy, our GDP no longer tied to the smelting hammer and assembly line, but to the more abstract realm of service industries.

Those two facts mix about as well as oil and water – or, explosively, as base and acid. As our old high school counselors used to press on us before we went off to the glamorous world of college education, not only do the best-paying jobs require some level of college education to qualify for, so too are the newest jobs, the most stable jobs, and the fastest-growing jobs. The days where a person can scrounge up a living off the sweat of their straining muscles had disappeared even before our parent’s time – now, the economy wants you to think, and think fast.

Unfortunately, thinking is somewhat hard when you’re hindered by the inability to read. Literacy is a staple, an outright necessity, for an advanced society – a person unable to read, reliant almost wholly upon spoken conversation to navigate through our culture, is outright crippled. The avenues of advancement and fulfillment for such an individual isn’t just few and far between – when more and more of even our basic industries are reliant upon computer usage and keyboards, and when you need to be able to read to even access your bank account, illiteracy is less of an obstacle and more of an outright jail, permanently halting self-growth.

Apply it to the one in seven Americans who can’t read, and you soon see that we’re talking about tens of millions of Americans who are inherently disqualified to work in even the industries that actually need more employees, even during this time of economic recession. Tens of millions of Americans who find themselves disposable in this economy, and with only the most marginal reading abilities, unable to train themselves to a more opportunistic position. We’re talking about tens of millions of Americans who are, effectively, an economic sink to everybody else, and a burden upon themselves.

What a wretched existence our neglect has condemned them too. The fact that so many has, for so long, been allowed to wallow in illiteracy, is an inexcusable blemish upon our own social fabric. The blame for this hits all levels – to the government, whose educational programs have utterly, utterly failed to reduce this in the last decade or so, to us, for ignoring this epidemic of ignorance, and not pressing the government to find a true, functioning solution.

It is far past time, I think, we made up for lost ground.


~ by Gonzo Mehum on February 19, 2009.

12 Responses to “USA Facing Literacy Crisis”

  1. So… Does it become the responsibility of those of us who had the maturity and self-respect to maintain our basic literacy in the language of our nation to enforce literacy upon those of us who have chosen to abandon that skill?

    Do we really need another government program – and it will be one, if any is implemented – that takes adults and forces them back to school? Why not include basic math in this, while we’re at it? Too many people don’t know how to do more than cash-register math these days – I don’t have numbers, but you know of what I speak.

    If people choose to abandon a basic citizen-skill like literacy and in doing so limit themselves to a career path of marginal function, then so be it. They had the opportunity to ensure adequacy, the responsibility is theirs. I don’t want a single one of my tax dollars to go to some program to correct the faults of people who are unwilling to fix themselves.

  2. The question then becomes what *kind* of adults are illiterate, and why. If they, to a man, have abandoned their basic thinking skills, than Bob’s criticisms are valid. If they are, on the other hand, immigrants who never could read English, or the results of ineffective inner-city (or home-) schooling, then that’s different. And, individual responsibility or not, they’re here and need dealing with in one way or another because, as Gonzo noted, they’re an economic sink on the rest of us, like Italy on the European Union.

  3. A libertarian approach to education is all nice and well if you assume that there isn’t going to be macroeconomic damage done to the folks that do choose to pull themselves up by their own damn bootstraps, Bob. Unfortunately, this isn’t a libertarian utopia we live in – macroecon applies. Allowing illiteracy to fester off the basis that the responsibility to gain literacy is /solely/ on the individual level means reducing the eligible employment pool, reducing the efficiency of the economic engine, and ultimately decreasing everybody else’s relative wealth in the process.

    Karma took up a rather nasty secondary job as an economic tool, see. The demand for skilled labor’s seen only varying levels of growth, never a decline, much unlike the literacy-optional basic labors: it’s worth trading efficiency off for stable, long-term growth, even if it means a tax hike.

  4. The implied portion of my statement, which I admit could have been explicitly stated, was that people who choose to lose their literacy skills should not be coddled, pitied or given special allowances. They should either be marginalized as the wastes of flesh and resources they are, or they should suck it up and develop the maturity to correct their issues.

    Immigrants and the results of our abortion of an education system I have no problem with providing assistance for – they might still be worthy citizens someday. It’s the ones that have chosen to neglect and abandon important life skills that I hold in contempt.

  5. Oh, well, then we have no inherent disagreements.

    Besides, short of martial law, how the hell do we force somebody to learn if they don’t want to? Stick them in schools? …yeah, like that’s worked so well so far, hasn’t it? Sales of pillows will go up, at least…

  6. There are adult ed and literacy programs, both formal through schooling and informal, through institutions such as the public library, which carries a selection of materials designed for ESL and adult literacy on its shelves. What they require, and what most adults do not have, is time. Because they have to find ways of making sufficient money in the underclass to not, say, be homeless or starving, they are working at least as long as the kids are mandated to be in school, if not doubling up on it to make ends meet. Where are they going to find the time to make themselves literate?

    As for the system turning out people who aren’t ready, there’s at least one simple helpful patch for that which won’t strain dollars in the budget – kill social promotion ded. You fail on the requirements, you stay back and try again. Or you progress on those matters you passed on and stay back on those you failed on. Might also make it worthwhile for schools to continue special education programs – they might find some of the otherwise normal students learn at a slower pace on some subjects.

  7. I say we make illiteracy a crime, punishable by death!
    You’ll see those numbers drop like a rock.

    >.> what?

  8. Like you said, this is nothing new. Other than a revamp in the education system though, what else has to be done is to realize that just learning to read is not going to be enough in this world – a person also has to learn how to learn. Functionally, someone who can read but has yet to learn how to learn throughout life is no better than what we deem to be “illiterate” in the strictest sense of the word.

  9. Let me be frank, we stop passing the dumb kids because failing will hurt their delicate self-esteem. I took the California exit exam the year it. I remember hearing it was designed to only have a 605 pass rate. I was surprised when I heard this because I, and everyone I knew (save one, who shouldn’t have passed), passed it easily and thought it was a joke of a test. Next thing you know, the exam is being removed and retooled because it was “too hard,” and parents started complaining when little Johhny couldn’t graduate with his friends and being held back would “stigmatize” him too much.

    tl;dr: Instructors shouldn’t be afraid of failing fail-worthy work.

  10. *the year it was introduced
    Damn, it’s early.

  11. That’s more of a gradual and widespread issue, though. A-inflation hits classes from kindergarten to college. And it won’t be easy to change, given that the big not-a-bug-it’s-a-feature of the American educational system is its decentralization.

  12. Plus, there’s also the issue, which we’ve certainly had in the UK, of people “teaching to the test” rather than teaching the subject. There’s correct way to introduce higher quality standards in education, and simply testing and retesting isn’t it.

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