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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Literacy Legacies

Today an employee at Leisure Services and I had a brief email exchange. The employee is noted for his wry observations.  It began when he pointed out a typo in a media advisory.  The following is an excerpt from the advisory: 

"The keynote speaker is Dr. Shelly Stewart, a noted successful businessman, radio personality and dynamic public speaker who overcame poverty and literacy on his way to success and fame"

The following exchange ensued:

Employee: Does one actually overcome literacy? I was always under the assumption that the ability to read and write was a good quality, not an obstacle to success.  Maybe I've been going about it all wrong.

Wayne: Actually literacy can become a problem--it can sometimes cause us to put too fine a point on something that is better understood in a more blunt fashion.  Sometimes with children, for example, it is better to say "Sit down and shut up" rather than "let us all reason together regarding the necessity and effectiveness of excessive activity and vocalization."

Employee: As I said, maybe I've been going about this all wrong. Today will be the last day my children partake in fancy book learnin'!

Wayne:  You're becoming a true American.

Employee:  Amen!. Do you know where the next Tea Party rally is being held?

Literacy among the privileged (like me and most blog readers) too often is taken for granted.  We too easily forget the hours spent with us by our parents getting us comfortable and interested in the skill, guiding and nourishing us during those vital early school years.  “Taint fair” the dearth of support some children receive.  “Taint fair” the chain of illiteracy and poverty that is too rarely broken.  Public education is often not effective without lots of home based support.  In Saint Petersburg the City is just starting a READ campaign.  I saw some great posters for it today created by Robert Norton and the TASCO team.  Perhaps if the City can only become more of a family some children otherwise left behind will find decisive encouragement.  The extended family can grow to include the support of Saint Petersburg residents who love to read.  The campaign must surely be counted a success if one child is saved from illiteracy.  Happy people read—that’s what the posters I saw plainly portrayed.  And, indeed, perhaps literacy is essential for happiness.

Literacy defined: “Ability to read and write: the ability to read and write to a competent level.”  (Encarta Dictionary)

Some statistics (quoted from Source.):

Why learn to read early?

Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. The fourth grade is the watershed year.

Literacy statistics worldwide

  • According to UNICEF, "Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them are women."

Many of the USA ills are directly related to illiteracy. Just a few statistics:

  • Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.
  • One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.
  • 43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5
  • 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels
  • 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts
  • 16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.
  • Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.

Literacy statistics and juvenile court

  • 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
  • More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
  • Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.
  • Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.