The Funny Business of Adult Literacy

Nine million Canadians have trouble reading and writing.

In America the news isn't much better. The Department of Justice reports that there are 21 million Americans who can't read at all and another 45 million who are marginally illiterate. One-fifth of high school graduates can't read their diplomas.

This YouTube video highlights the ridiculous characterization of adult illiteracy. And although this spoof pokes fun at the lack of funding for struggling readers – a closer look at the individual drama and suffering of these adults and children is no laughing matter.

Estimates for American high school dropouts, who typically have low literacy skills, are on the order of about $335 billion per year. For those you gain entry into the workplace, private industry spends an estimated $3.1 billion annually to bolster the literacy skills of entry-level workers.

More books, more reading time, and even more money alone cannot fix this problem. The answer lies in explicit, systematic phonics instruction. Every teacher should be able to teach the fundamentals of reading.

Why would we relegate this critical life skill to a few overworked, reading specialists?

If we can approach this ongoing adult illiteracy epidemic correctly, by teaching reading strategies that actually improve reading skills, we won't need to laugh - we'll be smiling.

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May 23 2011

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