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The human cost of an illiterate society: Jonathan Kozol Essay

As I type this essay I am using one form of communication available to those of us who are literate. Sadly not all of us have the ability to do what most if not all of us who are lucky to be literate, take for granted. One such article, “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society?” elaborates on the issue of illiteracy, which is utterly apparent in America. This essay is written using exemplification to show that knowledge is indeed power and those who are illiterate are almost powerless in today’s society.

To even begin to prove your thesis you need to fully explain and clarify what it is you are trying to say and or prove. Basically you are using this technique to avoid vagueness in your essay. When Kozol states, “Tragedy looms larger than farce in the United States today,” ambiguity is apparent but he clears it up with the next few sentences by providing reasons for this declaration “Illiterate citizens seldom vote. More frequently, they vote for a face, a smile, or a style, not for a mind or character or body of beliefs” (Kozol 230). Another example is, “Illiterates do not buy ‘no name’ products in the supermarkets. They must depend on photographs or the familiar logos that are printed on the packages of brand-name groceries” (Kozol 232). The latter sentence of each quote clarifies and explains the former sentence in each example. While clarifying and explaining are good ideas when writing an essay you must keep your readers from falling asleep.

A way to keep a hold on reader’s attention is to add interest that can be done by using attractive examples that can at the same time make clear certain points. Kozol is exceptional at this method as seen here: “They cannot read the waivers that they sign preceding surgical procedures. Several women I have known in Boston have entered a slum hospital with the intention of obtaining a tubal ligation and have emerged a few days later after having been subjected to a hysterectomy”( Kozol 231).

A different example of adding interest is as follow: “Even when labels are seemingly clear, they may be easily mistaken. A woman in Detroit brought home a gallon of Crisco for her children’s dinner. She thought that she had bought the chicken that was pictured on the label” (Kozol 233). In both cases he makes an allegedly simple statement interesting by providing a distinctive example that clarifies the original statement.

Once you have a reader’s interest it is easy to declare that is all you need, but if you really want to make proclamation that is rational it is necessary to persuade the reader as well. Giving facts and true stories are ways of achieving this. To persuade us that illiteracy is an actual problem Kozol gives us the fact that the number of illiterate adults in this country is 16 million more than the entire votes cast for winner of the 1980 presidential election (Kozol 230). Facts like this make you rethink your opinion if you were skeptical of the authors’ views and make you more supportable to his beliefs if you were on his side in the beginning.

Kozol implies that being illiterate makes it difficult if not impossible for mothers and fathers to be successful in understanding their children progress in school. He persuades the reader by saying, “Illiterates cannot read the letters their children bring home from their teachers. They cannot study school department circulars that tell them of the courses their children must be taking if they hope to pass the SAT exams. They cannot help with homework” (Kozol231). He is giving adequate instances that make his affirmation believable.

After reading his essay it is reasonable to believe the wide scope problem of illiteracy. What it also shows is that even being literate can be considered illiterate on another. For example the average reader like myself probably had trouble understanding his context the first time around or even the second or the third which can make you feel like your on a subordinate level of literacy. He made me feel like I was in a sense illiterate to his words and knowledge. It was very good in sending a message to me about hoe all the people facing illiteracy must feel in their everyday lives.


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