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AUGUST 11, 1997


Illiteracy: A functional Problem

  by Charles L. Singleton, Ed.D., Education
   One of the major social and education problems facing many Americans today is illiteracy- lacking or not developing the ability to read and write. Also, the present global-technological reality has tremendously increased the need for individuals to learn specific comnications skills in order to function effectively in a modern society.
   Author Thomas Armstrong, in his book, "Seven kinds of Smart" 1993, stated that there were 20 million adults who could not read "menus, signs, or other simple printed matter." In addition, Armstrong indicated that 40 million Americans could only read at the fourth grade level.
   Meanwhile, according to the Office of Technology Assessment (OAT), over 35 million adults can only function at a minimal level[of job performance] in their world of work (The Internet Division: Vetrol Data Systems 1997). And recently, the Washington Literacy Council reported that 60 percent of America's prison population are illiterate; and that functionally illiterate adults cost various governmental agencies a combined $224 billion, dollars per year-e.g., remedial education programs, workers' inadequate job performance, lost wages and taxes, a staggering increase in criminal activity, "Illiteracy and Crime-Cause and Effect" Solutions, Issue 5 (The association for better living and education [ABLE] 1997.
   In ABLE's article, "Illiteracy: Everyone Suffers," it was said that a great number of America's youth do not have basic skills in reading, writing, conversational English, and communications technology. ABLE published the following statistics (National Assessment on Education Progress [NAEP] regarding illiteracy among our children and youth: (1) "Only 30 percent of 4th and 8th graders and 36 percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient "level in reading." (2) The United States Department of Education observed that seventy-five percent of pre-adults cannot understand the main idea in a newspaper editorial; nor successfully use a bus schedule. (3) The NAEP- 12th grade status summary- projected that 48 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Hispanics in 1994 fell below "basic" reading standards. (4) NAEP's research (in grades that were evaluated) found that only 10 percent of African-American pupils and 16 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above the acceptable proficiency level in reading.
   Once again, illiteracy is our problem. Parents, educators, students, advocates for lifelong learning, and politicians must continually work together to solve it. Our youngsters can learn how to read, comprehend, and study. First, today's parents must spend more "quality" time with their children. Parents and guardians (working adults) of young people must start taking their uniforms (work clothes or costly garments), company's name tags and beepers off before sitting themselves down at the "kitchen table" and spend time with the child.
   Second, educators must be retained in the art of teaching (e.g., L. Ron Hubbard's Study Technology; improve individualized instruction; continuous "on the job training" for student teachers and experienced educators). As a point of reference, educators Dennis Sparks and Stephanie Hirsh believe that a "new vision" for staff development must be strongly implemented to enhance student learning. According to Sparks and Hirsh, "Gone are the days when teachers were the primary and passive recipients of 'sit and get' training. Effective staff development is targeting EVERYONE who affects student learning, and the total organization- not just the individual-is improving through multiple forms of learning," "A new Vision for staff Development" (Sparks and Hirsh 1997).
   Third, students must realize that they must WORK HARD to achieve and maintain success. Fourth, politicians and advocates for lifelong learning must continue to support both innovative and traditional programs in education.