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Illiteracy in America

Aug 17, 2007
In the past, I have assumed that illiteracy is reserved for the third world countries, the mentally disabled, or some destitute inner city families. Then, in my late thirties, I became a non-traditional college student and began to understand the magnitude of illiteracy in America. Peer editing is definitely a revelation. Fellow students have failed to write complete sentences, spell correctly, avoid improper language, and construct proper paragraphs. I am shocked.

When the papers are graded and returned, I actually question a professor concerning my unexpectedly high grade considering the mistakes I see after turning in my paper. Sadly, she suggests I remember the other papers I have peer edited. Then, I wonder how students have entered post-secondary education without the ability to utilize written communication properly.

Many Americans believe illiteracy is the total lack of ability to read or write. Therefore, the statistics cannot possibly be astounding. Nevertheless, I have come to a sadly different realization. Functional literacy is declining in the homes, schools, and in the workplace.

Sometimes affecting several generations, functional literacy is declining in the homes. Understandably, many illiterate Americans are immigrants learning a second language, the learning disabled, or the economically disadvantaged: 33% of all welfare recipients are not considered to be functionally literate. 84% of unemployed fathers and 82% of all unemployed mothers lack a high school diploma.(The Economics of Literacy).

Regardless of the reason, functional illiteracy can be a dangerous problem in the home. Parents may not be able to read prescription bottles to administer the proper amount of medication, or have the ability to write a check to pay the bills. Forget writing letters to communicate with others outside the local area, signing school forms, contracts for services, or complying with the customer service representative who wants it in writing

Sadly, many people, illiterate or otherwise, fail to acknowledge or address the growing problem of functional illiteracy in American homes. Studies prove reading to a child ultimately improves his/her reading and writing abilities. Thus, the child of illiterate parents is more likely to have inadequate literacy skills.

Subsequent to functional illiteracy in the home, schools are also combating growing illiteracy among the student population. Remedial programs, even in post secondary education, are on the rise. Eighty percent of community college now has remedial programs in place to help new students prepare for college level classes. Although more students are non-traditional adult students simply needing a refresher course, many students are fresh from high school graduation.

Personally, I have tried to determine the true culprit of illiteracy within the educational system. I wonder if students are simply becoming more complacent. Also, I wonder if schools have become more complacent in reaching educational goals.

During my public school education, children failing to meet the minimum requirements for a given grade level are retained in the same grade for the following year. The ability to read and write is paramount. Teachers recognize the necessity of attaining the foundational skills of reading and writing. Students unable to properly convey ideas and understanding in writing are required to gain the needed skills before advancement.

Today, social promotion is common. Educators and parents seem more concerned with causing the student emotional trauma now, rather than considering the ultimate consequences as a functionally illiterate adult: Academic preparation to succeed in community colleges is also critical, but almost 50% of all first-time community college students are assessed as under prepared for the academic demands of college-level courses, the report says (Lewis).

Also, parents seemingly refuse to believe their son/daughter is neglecting his/her studies. Unfortunately, I feel the parents complaining the loudest usually fail to be active participants in the child's education by enforcing a good work ethic or recognizing a small learning problem before the problem becomes insurmountable. Instead, the teacher/school is held accountable. Deferring to parental demands, the unprepared student is promoted and eventually seems to fall the cracks in the educational system.

The real world of the workplace is suffering the consequences of graduating functionally illiterate students who have failed to acquire the basic reading and writing skills necessary to succeed professionally: Very few adults in the U.S. are truly illiterate. Rather, there are many adults, [46-51%], with low literacy skills lacking the foundation needed to find and keep decent jobs, support their children's education and participate actively in civic life (Facts on Literacy in America).

Statistics have shown that more than fifty percent of Americans cannot adequately read or write at the eighth grade level-the level previously determined necessary to meet the minimal requirements to succeed in the workplace. Many people need assistance to complete an application or draft an appropriate resume.

If fortunate enough to secure meaningful employment, many workers may be unable to successfully convey messages by sending a simple inner office memo, adequately completing a necessary report, or drafting necessary correspondence: A study done by the Northeast Midwest Institute and The Center for Regional Policy found that business losses attribute to basic skill deficiencies run into the hundreds of millions of dollars because of low productivity, errors and accidents (Wild).

Rather than dismissing the functionally illiterate employees, and to avoid costly mistakes, some corporations have established literacy programs to help employees increase reading and writing skills. Although admirable, companies subsequently suffer reduced productivity and face the costs associated with reeducating illiterate employees. Ultimately, all Americans must recognize the problem of illiteracy as consumer prices increase to offset the rising costs of education in the workplace.

In summary, functional illiteracy affects Americans lives domestically, in the classroom, and in employment opportunities. Because functionally illiterate parents are unable to encourage and help children learn to read and write, illiteracy often spans generations within the home. In addition, the educational system is confronting increasing illiteracy in the classroom. Succumbing to pressure by parents and the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are often graduating students without adequate reading and writing skills to succeed in post secondary education or secure decent employment. Subsequently, businesses are attempting to reeducate employees unprepared to fulfill the reading and writing requirements of the workplace.
About the Author
My aim, as a writer, is to provide articles, advertising, e-books, editing, etc., to help you communicate information to the public.

My aim, as a teacher, is to provide tutoring services to high school and college students struggling with the writing process.

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