Thursday, May 28, 2009

America Has a Reading Problem

The first time I had exposure to illiteracy in America was 20 years ago in drug treatment. At that time, part of recovery was group therapy in which members took turns reading from Alcoholics Anonymous’ “Big Book”. As we passed the book it became obvious that over half of the 20-25 participants could only read at the barest of minimums. I clearly remember those of us who could read helping those who couldn’t sound out words.

I learned the scene playing out in drug treatment was far from unusual. These statistics from the National Right to Read Foundation paint a grim picture:
• 42 million American adults cannot read at all; another 50 million read at the level of a fourth or fifth grader.
• The number of functionally illiterate adults increases by 2.25 million every year.
• 20% of high school seniors are functionally illiterate at graduation.

Being unable to read or being functionally illiterate leads to a host of other problems and as research by the National Institute for Literacy illustrates:
• 70% of prisoners in both the federal and state systems are classified as illiterate.
• 85% of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.
• 43% of those who literacy skills are lowest live in poverty.

As an author such staggering statistics cannot be ignored. For that reason when Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) contacted me about promoting the importance of literacy I was more than happy to oblige. Leslie Clay, Director of Community Development says, “We are very proud of the fact that more than 7,000 adults learned to read at LIFT this year. When you factor in children whose parents learned how to read to them through our Family Literacy program, the number of lives LIFT touched is closer to 10,000. It is both an amazing and sad fact that 49% of Dallas county cannot read better than a 4th grader and Texas now holds the distinction of being the #1 state in the nation with regards to the number of high school dropouts.”

The miserable statistics in Texas mirror what is occurring in the rest of the country. I plan to get involved as a volunteer helping others to read and promoting programs such as those sponsored by LIFT and other such organizations. I encourage you to become active in literacy organizations in your own area and help eradicate America’s tragic reading problem.

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