National Literacy Week

"National Literacy Week" Receives Bipartisan Support

By Sam Johnson

     “Nothing is so important to finding a job and achieving the American Dream as the ability to read, yet millions of Americans still lack this essential skill..."      
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sept. 7, 2011.

     While our nation's government has been engaged in a much-too-long session of the childish game I call "Grudge and Gridlock," it was refreshing to learn this week, that at least one group of senators can cross the aisle and agree on something -- that the lack of literacy skills in America is a significant problem!
On Wednesday, a mix of eleven senators from both major parties joined forces to sponsor a resolution that calls for the week of September 12, 2011 to be designated "National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week," and that full attention should be given to this problem.
The purpose of their resolution is to accomplish three things: (1). Raise public awareness about the importance of adult education, workforce skills, and family literacy; (2) encourage people across the United States to support programs to assist those in need of adult education, workforce skills upgrading, and family literacy programs; and (3) call upon public, private, and non-profit stakeholders to support increased access to these programs to ensure a literate society.
But for many Americans who read every day -- newspapers, magazines, websites for information and entertainment; letters and email to stay connected with family and friends; grocery ads, store flyers and catalogs to do comparison shopping; instructions for filling out official forms at work; recipes and cooking directions to prepare food for dinner; instructions for their personal gadgets; and perhaps even a good book to relax with at the end of the day -- literacy is not a problem, and their attitude is to just shrug the issue off and say, "So what. Who cares? Why can't they agree on something that's really important?
     But the fact is, LITERACY is VERY IMPORTANT, and we should all care about it.
     Here's why:
The truth is, the lack of literacy skills in America is one of those "social problems" that affects all of us.
It is arguably the number one problem facing America today, even more important than such problems as the economy, jobs, the deficit, health care, poverty, welfare, dealing with the hungry and homeless, drugs and crime.
It IS the number one problem, because the lack of literacy skills among many Americans touches all these other problems, and makes the rest of us victims, one way or the other.
      We all become victims and "pay the price" when those who don't have sufficient literacy skills are unable to read or fill out their forms to pay taxes; when they are unable to read the health brochures, medical prescriptions, or nutritional information necessary to maintain good health for their children or themselves.
We pay the price when any of our fellow Americans lack sufficient literacy skills to get work because they can't fill out a job application form, or are unable to follow work-related instructions for operating equipment or doing other job-related functions, and instead end up on the welfare rolls.
      We pay the price when any of our fellow Americans lack sufficient literacy skills to understand governmental processes and share civic responsibilities.

     Here are the sobering facts about illiteracy in America:

     -- It is estimated that 90 million adults in America lack the literacy, numeracy, or English language skills to succeed at home and in the workplace. 

    -- The nation’s unemployment rate is highest among individuals without a high school diploma or an equivalent credential.

    -- The economic cost to the nation due to school dropouts amounted to $4.5 billion in lost earnings and taxes to state and federal governments.

    -- Overall, adult illiteracy costs society over $225 billion a year in lost industrial productivity, unrealized tax revenues, welfare, crime, poverty, and related social ills.
Clearly then, you can see the problem of illiteracy really should concern all of us, because we all pay the price for it.
The solution, as with many problems, begins with education -- educating those who are illiterate, teaching them the basic literacy skills they will need to lead productive and fulfilling lives; and educating those who are already sufficiently literate, so they are aware of the severity of the problem of illiteracy and can learn how to help fix it.
We can all help solve "the literacy problem" by encouraging our young people to stay in school, and by convincing drop-outs to return or enroll in GED programs, continuing education, or adult literacy programs.
We can encourage our friends or adults we know who have difficulty reading to seek assistance from one of your local adult literacy groups.
And we can certainly support local and state adult literacy programs through our voluntary donations of time or money.
Clearly, if we are to improve as a nation and live in a healthy and productive society with a high quality of life for all, we must set a goal to eliminate or drastically reduce the problem of illiteracy.

It's a problem we can all help solve.


   “As our nation’s unemployment rate remains at unacceptable levels, it is critical that Congress makes important investments in adult education and family literacy. Adult education programs enable adults to complete high school, and succeed as workers, parents, and citizens. Adult education promotes independence and is a real investment in America’s workforce.
Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)

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