While taking the time the other day to sort through a staple of newspapers and magazines, I came across an article devoted to a summer reading list. It’s a good idea because it exposes everyone to a different reading experience that you might not otherwise consider.
However, this summer, I want to offer you my own reading suggestion. Consider spending some time helping those who cannot read or write or do so with great difficulty. Being a tutor to these individuals often solves an unheard cry for help because of the stigma attached to the unlettered.
You might believe that those who suffer a literacy deficiency are a small number and that schools take care of the problem. You would be wrong.
Here are some eye-opening facts on literacy from the Literacy New Jersey Fact Sheet:
- The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) shows that 30 million adults — 14 percent of the nation’s population —lack basic prose literacy skills. This includes being unable to negotiate everyday tasks such as signing a form, adding numbers for a bank deposit slip, or reading instructions on how to prepare for a medical test. In New Jersey, 17 percent of the adult population was found to lack these basic literacy skills.
- Almost 1 million adults in New Jersey do not have a high school diploma. High school drop-outs with jobs earn an average annual salary of $19,000 – that’s $7,000 less than their classmates who successfully complete their high school education.
- In New Jersey’s urban school districts, between 40 percent and 60 percent of students drop out of school with reading levels well below the ninth grade.
- Nearly half of New Jersey’s adults function at the lowest levels of literacy, according to the Report of the Task Force on Adult Literacy.
- Providing free literacy tutoring to participants in job training programs can increase the effectiveness of the state’s investment in workforce preparedness.
- The single most effective predictor of children’s literacy is their mother’s literacy level. Reading aloud to children is the single most effective parental practice for enhancing language and literacy development.
- When adults enter literacy programs and improve their literacy skills, studies show that children have fewer nutrition and health problems, are less likely to drop out of school and are more likely to be employed.
And, this deficient literacy even leads to health issues. “The odds of having low levels of health are four times higher for low skilled US adults than for those with the highest skills, a ratio that is double the cross country average,” according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The number provided the proof that even in 2017, literacy is still a problem. But there is hope and there is a solution.
Organizations such as Literacy New Jersey (literacynj.org) are on the front lines of matching tutors with people seeking help. Their mission is to provide adults with the opportunity to read, write and communicate. They do it by “training volunteer tutors to help adult learners and by supporting a network of literacy programs.” The instruction is free, and the tutors work in one-to-one or small groups.
There are several reasons why supporting this type of program merits your attention. We often encourage people toward self-improvement even if we don’t use those words. How would you function if you could not read or write? Being unable to read or write, in short, being illiterate, becomes a millstone around their neck that keeps them from progressing in life. Programs like Literacy New Jersey offer more than hope, they offer a blueprint that works.
This issue has a social stigma that must be unimaginable, which is why you’ll hear stories of those that are illiterate often hide the problem. What would you think if a neighbor or friend suddenly told you they couldn't read or write. The shame attached to this issue can be overwhelming.
And there is another loss that no one counts and most of us overlook. It’s the loss of learning and enjoyment that we receive after reading something that warms us, thrills us or teaches us. How many times have you read something and thought: “I didn’t know that”? Or you were reading a passage and couldn’t help but admire how the author manages to both turn a phrase — earning your respect — and to massage your emotions in a manner that surprised you.
Those of us who can read and write comfortably, take our literary skills for granted because they seem natural. We should not allow circumstances to deprive anyone of the joy and enlightenment that literacy has brought us.
Literacy New Jersey (literacynj.org) operates in eight counties: Burlington, Gloucester, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean, Sussex, Union and (west) Hudson. If there is not one in your town, contact your local service organization or public library. They can help.
Few gifts of volunteering provide as much benefit as sharing the love of and the need for reading and writing. Helping someone to read and write might be the ideal item to add to your summer reading list.
That’s my take, what’s yours?