Archive for Friday, December 1, 2000

Reason for fright

December 1, 2000


There are so many reasons for fear and concern despite our supposedly civilized society that we tend to overlook what some might consider unspectacular threats.

However, it is difficult to read the results of a recent study by the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy without shuddering a little. There might not be an overnight crisis, but the chances of damage down the line are sobering, to say the least.

Key findings of the study:

One in 5 high school graduates in America these days cannot read his or her diploma.

Eighty-five (85, that is) percent of unwed mothers are illiterate.

Seventy (70) percent of Americans arrested are illiterate.

Twenty-one million Americans cannot read, at least 5 percent of the general population, one in 20.

Illiteracy costs the United States about $225 billion a year in lost productivity.

People who cannot read traffic signs and directions often cause serious motor vehicle accidents, many of them fatal. Restaurants must have pictures of their offerings to which patrons can point because they cannot read. The list of problems created by illiteracy is endless and, obviously, growing. One has to be shaken by that statistic about 20 percent of high school graduates not being able to read their diplomas.

With increasing need for the dissemination of information via print sources, computers and the like, consider how many will be left out of the mix of life because they cannot read.

Some observers point to the Jewish Coalition on Literacy as "troubling." It is far worse than that. "Frightening" comes immediately to mind.

A prime goal of our educational system should be for every youngster to be able to read at least passably by the time he or she finishes the first grade. Many are leaving high school without that skill. Colleges report an alarming number of "students" with terrible reading skills, among them athletes who have been coddled far beyond their social significance.

What does this say about the very apparent policy in a majority of schools of allowing students to pass to a higher grade without acquiring basic skills? "Social promotion" was one of the primary issues in the just-completed U.S. presidential race, during which Texas Gov. George W. Bush called for mandatory testing at many K-12 levels.

"Social promotion" is wrong, as confirmed by the statistics cited above. How many Lawrence teachers and administrators are, or have been, practicing social promotion rather than holding students back until they are able to pass appropriate tests?

America has many great things in its favor, but its illiteracy rate is a disgrace when one considers the percentages of those in other lands who can read. The handwriting is on the wall and it is up to those who can read it to make sure as many others as possible can do likewise.

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