The Shameful Secret of Illiteracy in America By Penni Wild
The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force; it is power you have to express and communicate, to think, and thereby to create events in your life.
- Don Miguel Ruiz
One New Jersey woman, “Maria,” read at a third grade level. She held a job and fudged her way through everyday tasks without reading. When she would go to a restaurant, she would order what she knew was on menu – a hamburger, salad or grilled chicken – or point to someone else’s plate at next table and ask “for what he’s having.” Maria even went so far as to keep her illiteracy a secret even from her husband of ten years. Because she could not read mail, she would pretend that she forgot her glasses at work or say that she had been too busy to open mail and ask her husband to do it. One day, they were walking past a shop window with a sign in it. As they looked at display, husband suddenly realized that his wife could not read. Maria was embarrassed and humiliated. But she sought help and now reads, works on a computer and teaches others to read.
In 2002, before Subcommittee on Education Reform Committee on Education and Workforce, United States House of Representatives, actor James Earl Jones testified: “92 million Americans have low or very low literacy skills – they cannot read above 6th grade level. To be illiterate in America – or anywhere for that matter – is to be unsafe, uncomfortable and unprotected. For illiterate, despair and defeat serve as daily fare. Can any of us who do know how to read really understand sadness that is associated with inability to read? Can we truly relate to silent humiliation, quiet desperation that can’t be expressed, hundreds of ways that those who cannot read struggle in shame to keep their secret? The struggle out of illiteracy … is still a part of story of America.”
Today, our nation faces an epidemic that is destructive to our future. The disease is functional illiteracy. According to most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), it has overtaken one-third of America's children by fourth grade – including two-thirds of African-American students and almost half of all children in inner cities.
The basic definition of literacy is ability to read and write. So basic definition of illiteracy is inability to read and write.
Beyond basic definitions, there is significance in shocking statistics about functionally illiterate. What illiteracy means is that millions may not be able to understand directions on a medicine bottle, or be able to read their telephone bill, make correct change at a store, find and keep a job, or read to a child.