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Literacy in the Classroom Essay

An estimated twenty-two million people each year are added to the adult illiterate population in the United States (The Talking Page, 2007). To define the term “literacy” on its own results in an extremely vague and ambiguous meaning. Literacy often used metaphorically to designate basic competencies and many times the definition becomes misinterpreted. When the term is focused toward educational and classroom settings the definition becomes somewhat easier to interpret.

Many individuals define “educational literacy” simply as possessing the ability to read and write, when in fact, “educational literacy” encompasses a much more complex meaning and contains many elements and traits. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as the, “Ability to identify, understand, interpret, create and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. The UNESCO firmly believes that literacy is an important part of a person’s ability to develop knowledge and potential, allowing him or her to reach goals, and participate fully in his or her community and other parts of society (United Nations Educational, 2004). The power of the written word was an uncommon interest during the early 19th century. It was not uncommon to come across individuals who did not have the opportunity to learn to read or write however, for most, education began at the mother’s knee, and almost always included the Bible.

Starting in their early years, most children had mastered the art of reading before stepping into a classroom. Illiteracy surveys examined a very fundamental level of reading and writing, therefore literacy rates were as high if not higher than they are today. Currently, literacy is a very different issue, focusing more on functional literacy, which addresses the issue of whether a person’s educational level is sufficient to function in modern society (National Assessment, 2012). A literate person in today’s definition does not mean only possessing the ability to read and write.

It is also acquiring the ability to think critically as well as comprehend language and text. If a person is not sufficient in these skills, he or she will have a more difficult time adapting to modern society than someone who has these literacy skills clearly developed. Literacy development in education continues to be a concern today. Three recent National Research Council reports, Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, and Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (2000) have documented a significance of early experiences on later development.

The results of these experiences have a profound effect on young children with regard to a successful transition to school and more important, on their success in learning to read. Most children will obtain language and pre-literacy skills through interactions with adults and peers, unfortunately, children raised in poverty have limited access to opportunities and in most cases fall behind their more affluent peers in acquisition of certain vocabulary and language skills (Wasik, Bond, & Hindman, 2006).

These reports, and many others, conducted along similar standards prove how important it is for our young generation to acquire a firm foundation of pre-literacy skills before entering school. Students will have a much smoother education process making the transition into higher education that much easier. Without these skills the illiteracy rate will climb which, in turn will have a negative impact on society. Coinciding with the negative impact on society, illiteracy will also impose a negative impact on our already struggling economy.

Unemployment will rise because of the lack of skill the labor force possesses. As these rates continue to increase, applications for welfare benefits will begin to flood the welfare offices. Furthermore, investors will be less likely to invest in these companies resulting in financial vulnerability. Companies who do not generate an income will not be able to pay employees or related costs forcing them out of business. A recent study shows that the effects of low literacy cost the United States economy more than $25 billion each year (Professional Marketing International, 2011).

Approximately $5 billion goes to support individuals who are unemployable because of illiteracy. According to a Fox News article, US debt tops $16 trillion: So who do we owe most of that money to? (2012) the United States Treasury Department reported that the national debt had topped $16 trillion. In today’s fragile economy, and with a deficit this large, the United States should not have to pay such a large dollar amount to support the illiterate demographic.

Illiteracy puts the entire economy in a worse state. Aside from the growing deficit, illiteracy will have an impact on America’s correctional systems as well as health in adults. Adults with low-level reading skills frequently suffer from health problems because they lack the ability to read and comprehend medical directions or health related literature (Washington County Literacy Council, 2003). Sadly, this will carry over into the children produced by individuals who are illiterate.

These children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years (The Talking Page, 2007). As a result this will create a new generation of illiterate citizens, implementing another unfortunate cycle. The importance of literacy in education is vital. It is the foundation of education and must come first. Currently, approximately 15% of Americans do not possess a high school diploma (U. S. Census 2009), and an estimated five million Americans holding jobs are considered functionally illiterate (Nations Business).

Introducing basic literacy skills and the importance of it in the early years of development is significant to a smooth and successful education process and will assist in decreasing these astounding numbers. It will also prove helpful during the later part of life when new families are created. President Obama spoke at a gathering of the American Library Association in 2005 regarding the importance literacy.

In his speech he said, “But before our children can walk into an interview for one of these jobs; before they can ever fill out an application or earn the required college degree; they have to be able to pick up a book, read it, and understand it. ” As the younger generation matures, the skill set acquired during early years will come into play and will give the ability to develop more comprehensive forms of literacy, be an active part of society and have a positive impact on the nation’s economy. These literate individuals will be prepared for an ever-evolving job market and will be able to adapt to any situation necessary to succeed.


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