Literacy Day ought to mean more

Published 7:04 pm Monday, September 8, 2003

By Staff
One of the promises Gov. Bob Riley has made if Amendment One passes on Tuesday is that the Alabama Reading Initiative will be fully funded. This nationally recognized program has brought attention to our state, and to at least one of our local schools that was among the first to adopt the initiative.
While funding the program is a noble cause, the stark reality is that literacy is a problem in this country, and although important, elementary school programs are not the only solution. Illiteracy is a problem not just among school-aged children, but adults as well. One of the basic skills any person needs to have to be able to function in our ever changing society is the ability to read.
If you are reading this column, it's apparent that someone, at some point in your life, made the effort to impress upon you how important the ability to read is. It is estimated that 44 million Americans cannot read, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education. Among all industrialized countries, we rate just 15th when it comes to literacy.
Tomorrow is International Literacy Day. Hallmark does not have a card celebrating the event and you likely won't find front page newspaper stories trumpeting the fact. However, the day needs to serve as a reminder to each of us that reading, and an education in general, is vitally important. Much of the discussion about Amendment One has revolved around having the funds to educate our children.
Unless that education starts at home, with a parent committing to take time and read to and with their children, though, no amount of funding, no tax increase, no campaign promise is going to improve the lives of those who cannot read.
Many of us think of learning as something that happens in school. It starts in Kindergarten when we begin learning basic math and language skills. As we move through the school system, we continue to learn more, building one lesson upon another, until we graduate high school.
At that point, many students continue their education at college or a vocational school. Others will enter the workforce. The one skill each of them will need to have is the ability to read.
Think about it. Work process and safety instructions are written. Information about when and how much of a prescription drug to take are written on the bottle's label. And forget about understanding a complex issue like Amendment One. If a person cannot read, no ballot, no mailer, no pamphlet is going to educate them to the facts.
As adults, many of us enjoy reading. It can be an escape from our everyday world. We can learn about people and places we'll never meet or visit.
And if you're a parent, what better time is there than when your child brings you a book, climbs in your lap and hangs on your every word as you read about his or her favorite characters?
The University of Mississippi recently received a $100 million donation from James Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape. Barksdale wanted the school to wage a full-scale war on the problem of illiteracy, particularly among children. As a business leader he understood what so many of us in the workplace find; that a lack of an education leads to poor work performance.
That's not to say that a person who cannot read is lazy, or would not give a full effort on a job. But rather, as our factories become more complex, the more important it is for the workforce to be able to understand complex instructions. That ability comes through education and specifically the ability to read.
The ability to read is something a person can learn at any stage of their life. Sure, studies show that it becomes more difficult as we get older, but it is a skill that can be gained at any point in our lifetime.
There are many reasons why a person would never learn to read, and there are many programs around our nation, state and even here in Brewton that are designed to teach people this vital skill.
Monday is not a holiday, and for many of us it will pass like most other days of the week. In honor of International Literacy Day, though, I challenge you to pick up a book and read it. Sit down with your kids and read them a book, or let them read one to you. Literacy Day may never turn into a celebration complete with fireworks and picnics, but the concept it stands for is an important one.

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