On America’s literacy problem

An illiterate Western populace really explains a lot about the time we live in. But how serious is it in America? Library Journal digs in. (PS, I recognize there are many more factors to intelligence than literacy, (and many more factors to illiteracy than intelligence), but the image was too good to pass up. And frankly, there are a lot of Idiots around.)

According to the International Literacy Association, there are 781 million people in the world who are either illiterate (cannot read a single word) or functionally illiterate (with a basic or below basic ability to read). Some 126 million of them are young people. That accounts for 12 percent of the world’s population.

This is not just a problem in developing countries. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 21 percent of adults in the United States (about 43 million) fall into the illiterate/functionally illiterate category. Nearly two-thirds of fourth graders read below grade level, and the same number graduate from high school still reading below grade level. This puts the United States well behind several other countries in the world, including Japan, all the Scandinavian countries, Canada, the Republic of Korea, and the UK.

The NCES breaks the below-grade-level reading numbers out further: 35 percent are white, 34 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African American, and 8 percent “other.” Nor is this a problem mostly for English Language Learners. Non-U.S.-born adults make up 34 percent of the low literacy/illiterate U.S. population. New Hampshire, Minnesota, and North Dakota have the highest literacy rates (94.2 percent, 94 percent, and 93.7 percent respectively), while Florida, New York, and California have the lowest (80.3 percent, 77.9 percent, and 76.9 percent respectively)

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