Literacy is ill in America

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Literacy is ill in America

Post by sooZen » September 9th, 2004, 11:50 pm

Just saw a report on the tube about literacy in America. The focus was mainly on a study done in Los Angeles but I know that Phar Lepht is at the top of the list for the most illiterate city per capita in the US. Most people cannot write well enough to fill out an application or read the directions on prescription medications. 53 percent of the population in LA is functionally illiterate. We are quickly working on becoming a third world country.

Our town has fewer bookstores than any city of its size. This does not bode well for poets or writers. Why, one may ask, is this happening? Is it because our population has become so visual and find reading boring? Is it an economic thing? Is it our schools, our parents, our communities?

When I was a child, before I even entered school, my mother would read to me every single night and she was a working mom. She encouraged reading, she taught me to write beautiful cursive, she bought me books, and she took me to the library and got me a card. I did the same with my boys. Nate still likes to write with a crayon but he still writes, in his own way. Noah reads constantly and has since he was a child. I have a picture of him holding a newspaper before he was two.

I believe we may be dinosaurs...

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Post by Lightning Rod » September 10th, 2004, 12:24 am


I think that the new media (tv and the internet) are a form of literacy. Have you noticed that there are people who can make no sense out of the internet? Mostly it's people our age.

Society has always been divided according to who was literate. There used to be a whole class of scribes. It was a profession. If you were literate you could make a living by virtue of that fact.

Only in the past century or two has literacy been widespread. Some think that the advent of the printing press (and the publication of the bible for all to read) spawned the Protestant Reformation. All of a sudden the priests weren't the only ones who could read and interpret the scriptures.

But back to my original point, I'm not sure that in today's world that literacy is neccessarily required to be educated. With all the alternative means of information transmission like audio/visual aids (tv, radio, films) a dislexic who can't read can be quite 'well read.'

I think in the case of LA (as well as El Paso) the literacy problem rotates on language. They are both cities with large Hispanic populations.
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

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Post by judih » September 10th, 2004, 12:55 am

maybe so, l-rod, but literacy is a mother tongue habit. Children who are exposed to reading, read. They want to read; their curiousity is stimulated.

Hispanic language is based on the same alphabet as english - and it's known that strength in mother tongue language makes second language learning far easier. It's the process rather than the fact.

Israel is a country where education is paramount. My work brings me in contact with the dyslexic population (not to mention attentively challenged) and the skills required for reading are very difficult to acquire. Still, any brain that manages to conquer mother tongue texts, despite all the difficulties, manages somehow to find a way to learn. As you say, auditory skills are a blessing.

But, with all the research and studies that have been going on for at least the past 50 years, it's known that reading starts in the home. Enrich the home environment, and you're well on the way to promoting literacy

j - written quickly to post before my net crashes. excuse typos and other forms of bizarre phrasings....

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Post by Lightning Rod » September 10th, 2004, 1:20 am


I listen to you in this area because I know you have hands-on experience.

Learning is a peculiar subject. There is a whole sub-category of philosophy devoted to it (epistemology)

I'm sure you have observed that different people learn in different ways. Some accept visual input, some accept audial, some accept the written word. I sense that you are a good enough teacher to discern which methods to use to reach a particular student.

But me? I can barely manage the English lanuage.
"These words don't make me a poet, these Eyes make me a poet."

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Zlatko Waterman
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Post by Zlatko Waterman » September 10th, 2004, 10:45 am

As some of you probably know, I spent thirty-three years teaching composition and literature in American colleges in three states.

The students are not to blame for the current abandonment of their own language. The society that emphasizes speed and convenience over craftsmanship diminishes attention to language. When a cell phone hangs at your belt, you are less likely to write a letter and mail it. You are even unlikely to write an e-mail.

The management of public education systems is an appalling wasteland of fraud, incompetence and plain stupidity. During my "career" I knew many managers. I cannot honestly say that a single one was "dedicated to serving students" ( their favorite phrase).

Most people outside of the educational establishment in the US have no idea how dreadful things are in public education.

Coupled with the fact that we insist that everyone go to school and hand out diplomas as easily as we hand out flyers advertising a rock concert
( or an evangelical revival), this horrifying mishandling of public funds and misallocation of resources has crippled and nearly buried public education in California.

When I was teaching full-time I was constantly in trouble with management over my disregard for the "self-esteem" movement, the "cultural diversity" movement and the destruction of the Western canon of literature, history and philosophy.

I was equally opposed to Hayakawa's "English only" movement.

I think LRod is right, however. Since prosperity in this country depends mostly on moving goods and services, he who is aggressive enough to shout down and freeze out the opposition can usually prevail, illiterate or not.

But Judih and SooZen, without specifically referring to it, point at another hovering specter:

People believe what TV tells them and don't investigate further.

My wife is a librarian at a nearby college ( and a math teacher), and so I get a daily dose of the horrors cooked up by management for their own self-aggrandizement which result in lower and lower literacy and math levels.

Dumbing down basic requirements in English and Math is not a one-time phenomenon.

The basement keeps getting excavated deeper every year, nay, every hour.

To school management ( notice I never use the word, "administrator"-- no lifelong union member like me does-- they "administer" little or nothing . . .), I intone:

" You, sir, are the flies upon the Shite. Nay, ye are the shite itself!"

("Rob Roy", played by Liam Neeson)


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Bullshit Bingo

Post by Zlatko Waterman » September 10th, 2004, 10:59 am

Dear All:

I suppose this should go under "Humor", but I thought it connected with what I said about educational management above.

It was forwarded to my wife by one of the adminstrative clerks ( a very bright woman) in the Library. She gets to attend a lot of "administrative" meetings.


> 1. Before (or during) your next meeting, seminar, or conference call,
> prepare yourself by drawing a square. I find that 5"x 5" is a good
> size.
> Divide the card into columns, five across and five down. That will
> give you
> 25 one inch blocks.
> 2. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block:
> * synergy
> * strategic fit
> * core competencies
> * best practice
> * bottom line
> * revisit
> * take that off-line
> * 24/7
> * out of the loop
> * benchmark
> * value-added
> * pro-active
> * win-win
> * think outside the box
> * fast track
> * result-driven
> * empower (or empowerment)
> * knowledge base
> * at the end of the day
> * touch base
> * mind-set
> * client focus(ed)
> * paradigm
> * game plan
> * leverage
> and last but not least
> 3. Check off the appropriate block when you hear one of those
> words/phrases.
> 4. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally,
> stand
> up and shout, "BULLSHIT!"
> -------
> Testimonials from satisfied "BullShit Bingo" players:
> "I had been in the meeting for only five minutes when I won."
> -Paul D., Seattle
> "My attention span at meetings has improved dramatically."
> - David D., Portland
> "The atmosphere was tense in the last process meeting as 14 of us
> waited for
> the fifth box."
> - Ben G., Salem
> "The speaker was stunned as eight of us screamed 'BULLSHIT!' for the
> third
> time in two hours."
> - Kathleen L., Spokane


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Post by mtmynd » September 10th, 2004, 11:30 am

Ive spent many a wasted hour contemplating the problem of illiteracy and education... a futile exercise on my part, but one that intrigues me to an extent.

It 's quite the conundrum that at once we have the remarkable access to instanteous information and yet an ever-increasing percentage of illiteracy. School systems ask for computers and access to the internet, but yet seemingly a large percentage of students cannnot even read, much less put into words their feelings. What good can a computer do for these people?

In my own experience i have found that many of today's youth have no idea of even geography. Asking some folks to locate even their own city on a map baffles them, much less the state they live in. The most startling thing is that they don't even seem to care.

M own home town ranks 79th in the least literate cities in the U.S. according to a recent study published 8/03/04 in USA Today ( ... sp?ID=2689), the bottom of the heap. It borders on the ludicrous to think that a computer will aid the education process, given that an estimated 37% of our population is illiterate, and even in many ways seems to be a badge of honor.

Would a return to the "3 R's" (reading, 'ritng, 'rithmetic) be of any use? Or is the problem too far gone to make any difference? I personally know quite a few teachers in our community, and for the one's that have been in the system for several years, it has just become a means of getting a paycheck - play the game, follow the latest rules, pass the kids, move on. The flame of teaching has long blown out. Muddled with city, state and federal mandates, today's teachers are stressed and encumbered by the system, unable to perform according to their ability or love of the subject.

The country is in terrible shape with not much to see as an improvement, our children included. For this we are at war with others..? Ironic.

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Post by anniefay » September 10th, 2004, 12:25 pm

How illiterate are we becoming? I don't know. I know with technology we take short-cuts and with "text messaging" on phones I sometimes wonder what the written English language will look like in the future.

I don't know if illiteracy in increasing or if we are just more aware of those who are illiterate. I agree that the basics in education seem to be getting overlooked... but again, when I have discussions with young people I am blown away by their intelligence and how knowledgeable/well read they are. They have oppportunities that I never had. Education is readily available if a person will even try to take advantage of what is offered.

We have specialty classes which teaches all the basics to adults for free in our community and provides starter classes to those who struggle because English is their second language. I find it hard to believe that our community is unique in this.

Our school sponsors a program where adults come in to mentor students who have reading problems. In this program one "adopts" a student and works with them daily, or 2-3 times a week, whatever their schedule allows. Our employer excuses employees from work who participate in this program (pay not docked) and so does other businesses in the community. My daughter works with a group called "Volunteens" who go into the elementary school and help students who are having problems. Again, is our community unique?

Am I being overly optimistic. Probably, it's one of my most endearing qualities. And, yes, we have problems here in a community that provides programs to obliterate illiteracy. But... I think that if illiteracy is a cocnern there are things a person can do to make a difference. I guess this is true of almost every problem.... and since I already looked up Robert F. Kennedy today... let me share this awesome quote from him

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." (italics mine)[/i]

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Post by abcrystcats » September 10th, 2004, 12:57 pm

Wow! Everyone's been into this thread, and I've read many great responses. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to add in my own opinions.

1) Illiteracy in LA is not just about immigration. I've met many Anglo-Saxon native born Americans there who can barely scribble a brief note. My former supervisor(my age -- 44) could not write an effective email without relying on her spellcheck tool. Until I came along, she didn't even bother to use it because most of her employees were less literate than she was.

2) I agree with Mtmynd completely that literacy is a required pre-requisite for successful internet comprehension -- and communication. The internet is NOT a "new" form of literacy in and of itself.

Furthermore, the internet is filled with inaccuracies and out-and-out falsehood. To sort through all this, you need to be able to reason. That is another thing, along with literacy, that is going down the tubes in America.

3) Zlatko -- THREE CHEERS for DISREGARDING THE SELF-ESTEEM MOVEMENT AND THE CULTURAL DIVERSITY MOVEMENT! You have my full agreement about both those things, and you already know how I feel about classic Lit.

4) "I was equally opposed to Hayakawa's English-only movement" Care to flesh this comment out a bit? I'm not familiar with Hayakawa's stance on this, but mine is that learning the language of a culture is essential to social and economic success within it.

5) "People believe what TV tells them and don't investigate further" Agreed. Still trying to get my neocon brother to read a BOOK instead of relying on the internet and TV for his political wisdom. No luck.

6) "Since prosperity in this country depends mostly on moving goods and services, he who is aggressive enough to shout down and freeze out the opposition can usually prevail, illiterate or not."

Thank you, Zlatko. Whether you know it or not this touches closely on an issue I brought up recently on another website.

and LRod -- The internet confuses me precisely because so many of the people who use it cannot write or reason effectively. If the internet IS a new form of "literacy" then it's not a very good one.

**If we are "dinosaurs", Sooz, then I'd rather be a dinosaur ...

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Post by abcrystcats » September 10th, 2004, 1:17 pm

Missed your response because I was posting my own, but I loved it -- especially your Robt. Kennedy quote. I agree that this is something that we can DO something about, as individuals, if we so choose.

My question is, how many people who have literacy problems are really AWARE that they have them? How many actually care or think that it's important to improve on this? I attended classes and volunteered to teach reading and writing skills in my own community about seven years ago. I was surprised to learn that MOST of the students were in prison! I knew so many people in the community at large who needed this help. I don't think they knew there was a problem!

An example: I spoke to a VERY angry young woman at my former school. It was a trade school. This young woman's teacher had asked her to write a short essay on animal behavior. What she wrote in her essay made no sense. She couldn't organize her thoughts cohesively and she failed the assignment. Instead of recognizing that she needed to develop her writing skills, the young woman blamed the teacher and the school for requiring this of her. She had all kinds of rationalizations, but no insight into her own deficiencies in this area.

That is what I think is the problem. People are unaware that writing and reasoning skills are necessary at all! This is the shifting cultural paradigm that frightens everyone who has posted here, so far. Are we moving into a world where literacy is unnecessary and even unpopular?

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