Wikipedia breaks illiteracy down into two categories. First, there is “functional illiteracy.” Being functionally illiterate is described as a person who can read and possibly write simple sentences with a limited vocabulary, but cannot read or write well enough to deal with the everyday requirements of life in their own society. The definition of functional illiteracy may differ from one society to another and from one study to another. In comparison, being “purely illiterate” is described as persons who cannot read or write in any capacity, for all practical purposes.
The National Adult Literacy Survey (1992) NCED, U.S. Department of Education states that 44 million adults in the U.S. can’t read well enough to read a simple story to a child. A National Institute for Literacy article in 2001 says that approximately 50 percent of the nation’s unemployed youth ages 16-21 are functionally illiterate, with virtually no prospects of obtaining good jobs. It is estimated that more than $2 billion is spent each year on students who repeat a grade because they have reading problems. Since 1983, more than 10 million Americans reached the 12th-grade without having learned to read at a basic level. In the same period, more than six million Americans dropped out of high school altogether. This same study says that 21 million Americans can’t read at all, 45 million are marginally illiterate and one-fifth of high school graduates can’t read their diplomas. These are staggering statistics from more than a decade ago.
So what can we do? First, as parents, we should try to instill a love of reading in our children at an early age. Even before a child can read, picture books can be used to expand the vocabulary. You’ll be amazed how quickly a young toddler will pick up on the association of the picture and the name that goes with it. When you move on to simple word books, show the child a picture associated with the word. In 1999, only 53 percent of children ages three to five were read to daily by a family member. Children in families with incomes below the poverty line are less likely to be read to every day than are children in families with incomes at or above the poverty line. In fact, disadvantaged students in the first-grade have a vocabulary that is approximately half that of an advantaged student.
In a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, out-of-school reading habits of students have shown that even 15 minutes a day of independent reading can expose students to more than a million words of text in a year. Most all town libraries have summer reading programs for all ages. Parents should take advantage of it. Even if you don’t have a large collection of books in your home, it costs nothing to get a library card and check out books.
It’s also important to provide a quiet place for children to read EVERY day. Read to them and have them read to you, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day.
If you are an adult who struggles with reading, talk to a GED counselor at Georgia Northwestern Technical College. The GED classes are free and include a remedial reading class for those who need it.
Don’t let yourself or your child become a statistic in America’s war on illiteracy. Get help. You’re never too young or too old to discover what doors will be opened to you through reading.
During June, July and August, I will only be writing columns monthly (the first week of each month) due to vacations and spending time with family. Thank you and have a blessed summer.
Pam Rasmussen is a resident of LaFayette. She is a mother of a child with Spina Bifida and an advocate of special needs children and adults. She can be contacted at email@example.com.