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Literacy in America Essay

America, the most technologically advanced and affluent of all nations on the earth, seems to have an increasingly larger illiteracy rate every year. This has become and continues to be a critical problem throughout our society as we know it. According to the National Adult Literacy survey, 42 million adult Americans can’t read; 50 million are limited to a 4th or 5th grade reading level; one in every four teenagers drops out of high school, and of the students who graduate, one in every four has around an 8th grade education. Why? You ask.

This problem will never fix itself and will take quite a bit of time to overcome. We need to make sure that everyone is aware of the social problems, poverty and lack of family interaction that occurs everyday in many, if not all, communities throughout America. “Nearly a billion people, two-thirds of them women, will enter this world unable to read a book or write their names,” warns UNICEF in a new report, “The State of the World’s Children 1999. ” UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, points out that the illiterate “live in more desperate poverty and poorer health” than those who can read and write.

(Boaz). The most important factor that contributes to the outrageous statistics of illiteracy is that of poverty. Poverty is an issue that more and more of our nation’s children are coming face to face with and the price they must pay is unbelievably high. Poverty is considered a major at-risk factor (Leroy 2001). The term at-risk refers to children who are likely to fail whether it 2 be at school or life in general because of their life’s social circumstances.

Some of the factors that may place these children at-risk are: dangerous neighborhoods; young, uneducated parents; unemployment; and inadequate educational experiences. Teachers need to be aware of the circumstances that their students face and be able and ready to help these children find a balance between the cultural values that they may have and values emphasized in school. By providing emotional support, modeling, and other forms of scaffolding, teachers can help students use their strengths, skills, and knowledge to develop and learn ( Marlowe and Page,9).

The United States prides itself on being a free, democratic state. Jonathan Kozol’s essay “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” states that the United States is not the democracy it claims to be. For democracy to work at its best, a true representation of the common interests and how the majority feels about those interests must be in place. According to Kozol, about “60 million people in the United States are illiterate. ” For the United States to be the self-functioning democratic state it proclaims to be, it has to be a literate society.

The people of the United States are not part of a democracy without the full capacity to make informed choices, and furthermore cannot reap the benefits that a democratic society has to offer if the best interests of the majority are not represented. Direct quote #2 (Madison)with signal phrase. Hypo-thetical example James Madison wrote that a “people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both” (Surowiecki, page 4).

Voting is by far the most important aspect of a democratic society, and the percentage of people who do vote is a topic of much discussion here in the United States. If the number of people not voting is such a significant concern then the reasons they are not voting is 3 as well. An uneducated vote is not any better than a vote not cast at all. Imagine going to a voting booth and voting for a person or a ballot measure based on the ads you see on the TV only. In this circumstance, decisions are often made based on the negative ideas offered by both major political

parties. If 60 million people in the United States cannot read, then they cannot cast a vote truly representative of their opinions. As Kozol claims, the United States has in fact become a government “of those two thirds whose wealth, skin color, or parental privilege allows them opportunity to profit from the provocation and instruction of the written word” (Kozol). The percentage of the population that is illiterate cannot choose which candidates make it onto the ballots, they cannot sign petitions, and they cannot choose which measures will pass or those that will fail.

Direct quote #3 (Kozal), with signal phrase e. Of equal importance to a democratic society are the benefits that literacy provides to the public. When one is illiterate they are not able to reap the benefits of a free society. The freedom to choose enhances one’s chances of experiencing the best of anything. Illiteracy makes for a life of settling. An illiterate person has to settle for another’s interpretations of the world. According to the article ‘Democracy 101,” the ability to read opens a world that many people do not consider.

The choice of where to live, what to eat, and where to work may all seem commonplace to the average literate person. Kozol uses the warning on a can of Drano in the opening of this essay to educate. It may take a moment for it to sink in but the reader will soon realize how much power reading and writing holds. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens of this country. Those that cannot read or write do not have the capability to choose who are the best people suited for ensuring those rights.

Perhaps more importantly the 60 million illiterate people in this country cannot make the choices necessary to make use of those rights (Kozol). References Boaz, David. “Illiteracy — The Bad News and the Good. ” Cato Institute. 20 Jan. 1999. Kim, J. K. “NRRF – Illiteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice? ” Kozol, Jonathan, Illiteracy: The Enduring Problem. “. Leroy. “The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning. ” 2001 Surowiecki, James. “The Dangers of Financial Illiteracy in America. ” The New Yorker.

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