It may seem obvious to many people why literacy is so important in our technologically advanced society. However, many parents may not fully realize emotional pain and life-long damage illiteracy can cause their children. Literacy, ability to read well, is foundation of children’s education.
If children can’t read well, every subject they try to learn will frustrate them. If they can’t read math, history, or science textbooks, if they stumble over words, they will soon give up reading out of frustration. Asking children who are poor readers to study these subjects is like asking them to climb a rope with one arm.
Kids learn to read in their most formative years, which is why reading can profoundly affect their self-esteem. When children learn to read, they also start learning how to think abstractly, because words convey ideas and relationships between ideas. How well they read therefore affects children’s feelings about their ability to learn. This in turn affects how kids feel about themselves generally whether a child thinks he or she is stupid or bright. Children who struggle with reading often blame themselves and feel ashamed of themselves.
As Donald L. Nathanson, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College noted: “First reading itself, and then whole education process, becomes so imbued with, stuffed with, amplified, magnified by shame that children can develop an aversion to everything that is education."
Often, poor readers will struggle just to graduate from high school. They can lose general confidence in themselves, and therefore confidence to try for college or pursue a career. Their job opportunities can dry up. Their poor reading skills and low self-confidence can strangle their ability to earn money. They can struggle financially their whole lives. If they marry and have children, they can struggle even more.
Life for illiterate adults can easily degenerate into misery, poverty, failure, and hopelessness. According to a 1992 study by National Institute for Literacy, “43 % of Americans with lowest literacy skills live in poverty and 70 % have no job or a part-time job. Only 5% of Americans with strong literacy skills live in poverty.”
As Dr. Grover Whitehurst, Assistant Secretary of U.S. Department of Education, said, “Reading is absolutely fundamental. It’s almost trite to say that. But in our society, inability to be fluent consigns children to failure in school and consigns adults to lowest strata of job and life opportunities.”
By 1850s, before we had compulsory, government-controlled public schools, child and adult literacy rates averaged over 90 percent, making illiteracy rates less than 10 percent. By 1850, literacy rates in Massachusetts and other New England States, for both men and women, was close to 97 percent. This was before Massachusetts created first compulsory public-school system in America in 1852. What is literacy like in our public schools today?