A Reader's World

Voice Card  -  Volume 29  -  Suzanne Card Number 9  -  Sun, Aug 15, 1993 1:22 PM

This is ONE OF 2 responses to VC 28 Yumi 6 ("I Wanna Be...")...


My best wishes in your endeavors to promote learning to read. Illiteracy in this country is a more pervasive problem than most people are aware of. Jonathan Kozol, who has written extensively on the topic, claims that one-third of the U.S. population is either functionally or marginally illiterate.

Several years ago I did some work with illiterate adults, trying to teach reading and writing. It's truly amazing how limited people's lives can be when they can't read. Forget about books or the newspaper - most jobs require some degree of reading skill, in order to get a driver's license you have to take a written test, even to travel by bus you need to be able to read the destination of the bus and street signs to know where to get off, to buy food at a grocery store and prepare it you need to be able to read labels and recipes.

Most of these people have horrible self-images and try to cover up the fact that they can't read. They're good at it, too; sometimes even their own families don't know. Some of them hold up newspapers every morning and pretend to read them, then listen diligently to the news on the radio and TV.

Anyway, I think it's sad that so many people can fall through the cracks of our educational system and never develop minimal reading skills. But once kids start to slip, apparently it's not an easy process to pull them back up. Jonathan Kozol says that in many cases, although the parents would like to help, they can't because they don't know how to read themselves, so the entire burden is placed upon an already overburdened teaching staff and the children begin to lose interest in something that has come to seem like a frustrating and impossible task.

So certainly teachers like you can do a great deal to help. It's just too bad there aren't more of you.