Educational legislation nowadays is largely in the hands of illiterate people, and the illiterate will take good care that their illiteracy is not made a reproach on them. —Katharine Elizabeth Fullerton Gerould
I am very much aware that I am a person of privilege. Not only am I white and male, two factors in which I had no choice but still give me advantages that are, unfortunately, not yet available to everyone, but I also have a superpower that puts me ahead of roughly 87% of the U.S. population: I am proficiently literate. Not only can I read and write, but I can comprehend material intentionally written at a severe academic level. To that end, I am one of the most privileged people on the planet.
Growing up, I thought everyone knew how to read and write. Reading and grammar were emphasized heavily even before I started school. My mother, a teacher herself, made sure I started kindergarten already reading at a basic level, and this was in a day when preschools only existed in the largest of cities and were the domain of the elite. Right there, though, was my first advantage. By the time I was five years old, I was already reading better than 32,000,000 adults in the United States. If anything, the numbers were probably higher back in 1965 than they are now.
Illiteracy is one of those problems you may not ever consider if you are capable of reading what I write. Most days, for most articles, at least 60 percent of adults can read and comprehend what I write. I’ll admit, I am sometimes frustrated by having to re-write whole paragraphs to bring the readability rate into line; I want everyone to read at the same level at which I am most comfortable communicating. However, one-third of the US population cannot read this paragraph.
Not being able to read and write at even a basic level is one of the most costly problems in America today, but yet you’re not likely to hear anything about illiteracy mentioned by the politicians running for office. How much does illiteracy cost? Here’s an infographic for those of you already tired of reading:
Like many of societies problems, illiteracy rates are worse among non-white populations. While a part of that is due to the challenge of immigrants even trying to learn our often complex and complicated language, the majority exists because reading is never encouraged. If one has not learned to read at a basic level by the time they are ten years old, the chances they will remain illiterate the rest of their lives is extremely high.
Pearson, the global publishing behemoth, produces much of the educational material in use around the world. They understand all too well the challenges of illiteracy. This week, they released a new video as part of the #ProjectLiteracy campaign. Produced by ad agency FCB Inferno, the claymation piece titled Alphabet of Illiteracy is a frighteningly clear representation of how illiteracy impacts our society. The campaign’s goal is to make sufficient strides in literacy so that by 2030 no child born is at risk of not being able to read and write.
I encourage you to not only watch the video below, but share it, and then consider how you can help combat illiteracy. Teach someone to read. Encourage someone who is struggling to read. Introduce someone to your local library. The options are many, the benefits are tremendous. There is no better way to spend a Saturday.