The Issue of Illiteracy
Even in the 21st century, illiteracy still remains a large issue in the United States. According to an article about illiteracy by Daniel Lattier, about “32 million (1 in 7) adults in the U.S. are considered ‘functionally illiterate’” (Lattier, 2015). This statistic is shocking because as well-educated college students, it seems unfathomable that so many people cannot read, yet it remains true. I have witnessed this issue play out in my own community work through the program called America Reads. My position in this program is a “Literacy Mentor” where I help kids from low-income families in the Minneapolis community with reading skills. I have come across several young children who are extremely below their expected reading level and some who cannot read at all due to language barriers. In my work, my role is to help confront illiteracy and reading issues and help them be able to succeed in school.
I have been fortunate enough to have been able to educate myself through trainings I received for this Literacy Mentor position. It is a work-study job through America Reads and we are required to do trainings when we first start in regards to literacy. We learn about specific activities we can do with kids to help with improving literacy skills. In addition, I have learned about these issues through some of my college courses, as well as looking up other information on the internet myself. I would recommend others educate themselves about this issue by just googling issues of illiteracy in the U.S. because it gives a good idea of the extent of this issue. I would also suggest getting involved within your community by being a tutor for minority or low-income children or adults in order to have first-hand experience with those who are illiterate.
A few actions would need to be taken in order to affect change on this issue and at different levels. At the macro level, the government needs to provide money for schools facing high rates of illiteracy and implement programs for this issue. At the meso level, we need organizations to advocate for these funds and programs. At the micro level, we need individuals, like ourselves, to go out and volunteer in our community and help children or adults with literacy skills. It’s necessary for us to remember that illiteracy does not just face children—even though that is the population that I work with—because it definitely affects adults as well.
I think some barriers or limitations that keep people from acting in response to this issue are things like the lack of awareness and ignorance. I honestly believe that many people are not even aware of the extent of this issue, and even if they are, they may be embarrassed by it. We typically think of illiteracy as being an issue primarily occurring in developing countries but not in the U.S. Educating people about this issue should be the first step in making a change. Other limitations may include that we take reading and writing for granted. Like breathing, we just assume that everyone can do it. It was well-put by Katie Dupere in her 2106 article about ways to help increase literacy rates. She says:
“Reading and writing is probably something you take for granted, doing it without thinking of literacy as a human right denied to millions around the world…. People who are non-literate or illiterate are often perceived to be unintelligent, but it’s essential to debunk this myth and realize that those with first-hand knowledge of a problem often know how best to address it.”
The author is right; literacy is a human right and it has not been accessible to all people. I think there is also the limitation, as she mentions, that we perceive those as illiterate as being “unintelligent,” which makes people less inclined to want to help them. There may also be this idea that they chose to not go to school or to learn how to read so why should we help them? It’s crucial that we challenge these thoughts and ideas that people have and educate them about reasons why those who are illiterate are unable to read. Perhaps they do not have access to school or programs that teach them how to read. They could have moved from another country and now English is their second language and they have difficulty understanding it. We need to be aware of the different reasons why people are illiterate rather than making assumptions.
An advantage to having different approaches on this issue is that we may not know the best way to go about combating it so it’s useful to have different ideas come together. As we continue to bring more awareness to illiteracy and help eradicate it, we will be able to hone in on the best approach, but as of right now, we need to come at it with different approaches. A disadvantage to this is that the approaches may conflict with one another. Some people may argue that we need to get the government involved and make them implement governmental reading programs in schools. While others may argue that we should take on a more community approach and have non-profit organizations create these literacy programs.
A dream I have for my own organizations is that I hope it will be able to stay afloat and possibly expand its outreach to even more schools. Unfortunately, a lot of the after-school programs that America Reads works with and sends its literacy mentors to have lost funding and therefore were unable to bring their mentors back. I strongly hope that this loss of funding does not keep occurring because illiteracy is an issue that cannot be ignored. I also would like to see more programs like America Reads be created because we need more of them and we need more volunteers like ourselves to go out in our community and make a change.
Dupere, K. (2016, September 08). 6 ways you can help support the right to literacy around the world. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from http://mashable.com/2016/09/08/literacy-how-to-help/#UL57_9EGuOqH
Lattier, D. (2015, August 26). 32 Million U.S. Adults are “Functionally Illiterate”… What Does That Even Mean? Retrieved September 30, 2017, from http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/32-million-us-adults-are-functionally-illiterate-what-does-even-mean