Literacy - 21 million Americans can't read this.

I’d like to bring something to your attention.

About 21 million Americans aged 16 or over, with English as their only language, cannot comprehend the text in an average paragraph of a newspaper; they cannot grasp the meaning of the text in an average 4th grade reading primer. Approximately 7.3% of the over 16 population in the United States are functionally illiterate in English, the only language they know. If you include those Americans who speak more than one language who are illiterate in English the figure almost doubles.

That’s one person out of every seven over the age of 16 who are unable to follow simple lifesaving medical directions, who can’t understand a bank deposit slip without assistance. It would be impossible for someone of this skill level to read a newspaper, and the average newspaper is written at a 6 to 8 grade level.

Approximately 9.7 million illiterate Americans have completed High School.

Illiteracy isn’t only about people on the edge of society – it also affects people you would never suspect. These people have created elaborate ‘coping mechanisms’ to hide their illiteracy. They’ve learned how to pass their driver’s test, order from a menu, and otherwise navigate through life without anyone suspecting that they are functionally illiterate.

There is a way to help.

I urge you to volunteer to teach; just one person. It won’t take too much of your time – perhaps 4 hours a week. Step away from your television, someone could really use your help.

To find a place to volunteer, check out your local library. Libraries will often provide training for literacy tutors, or they will know where to direct you. Here in California, Measure B was passed in 1996 to allow funding of library programs such literacy tutoring. All training, and tutor / student reading materials are free.

ProLiteracy America is the largest literacy organization in America. They are also worth checking out. Many counties have an ‘Each one Teach one’ program that is worth checking into.

And there are different types of literacy that you could help with. Math literacy is also a problem, with millions of Americans unable to do more than simple addition or subtraction. Multiplication, division, fractions are all difficult, or impossible for them. The same programs that offer literacy may also teach math literacy and would be willing to train you as a tutor, or direct you to a program that would do so.

I know that many people love to work in soup kitchens or shelters. I know there is a great need to help the homeless survive, to help those who are shut in. But there is something especially unique when you help someone learn how to read…

You’re giving them something that they will have forever – something that can never be taken away.

  1. (Link to PDF Document) - National Center for Education Statistics - A First Look at the Literacy of America’s Adults in the 21st Century.
  2. - Resources and tools for the national and international youth and adult literacy communities.
  3. ProLiteracy America - the largest adult literacy organization in the United States
  4. (Link to PDF Document) - Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, by National Endowment for the Arts.
  5. Text of California Measure 'B' (1996)

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