Rising cost of illiteracy

Sylvia Porter

November 02, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

If you believe the inability of 27 million Americans to read, write and do simple arithmetic is not your problem, think again. It is costing you, a taxpayer, billions of dollars a year, and that means you are footing the bill out of your own pocket.

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 1990 International Literacy Year and a conference is scheduled early next month at U.N. headquarters in New York to explore the issue. Illiteracy is not just a "foreign" or third-world problem. The United States is one of the nations at risk, its future as a world economic power, threatened. The U.S. ranks 49th among 156 United Nations countries in its rate of literacy, says UNESCO.

One-third of today's workers, illiterate or marginally literate, will be unable to perform tomorrow's work tasks, says a new report from The Conference Board, a business research organization. Almost 20 percent of companies surveyed say they can't find people who can read well enough to qualify for entry-level jobs.

Who is to blame? How did it happen? Many observers say it's your fault. As parents, you do not read to your young children (some of you can't), or encourage them to read. As citizens, you do not insist on quality education. You've turned teachers into proxy parents, permitted the curricula to fill up with questionable courses, and demanded that non-performing students be promoted for "social" reasons.

The result is that your community includes individuals who can't fill out a job application, understand the label on a medicine bottle, support the learning of their children, read an instruction manual, exercise their rights as citizens, or do many of the things you do to make your life productive and satisfying.

The tab has come due, hidden in many of the nation's political, social and economic problems. You pay for it in the cost of ZTC crime. Those who cannot cope as workers, parents and citizens may not be at fault for their plight.

"There is no single reason, no one cause on which to place the blame," according to Literacy Volunteers of America. Many didn't receive the individual help they needed in school. Many left school to earn a living. Others are illiterate because English is a second language.

If you would like to be a part of the solution to this problem, information and assistance to get you involved is readily available. The most widely known organization is Literary Volunteers of America, a non-profit organization which works through a network of volunteers in community-based literacy programs. LVA recruits, trains and matches volunteers with adults and teen-agers in need of basic reading training.

To learn how to volunteer or to get help, you can write Literacy Volunteers of America, Inc., 5795 Widewaters Parkway, Syracuse, N.Y. 13214.

Laubach Literacy Action also is a non-profit organization founded in 1955 by Dr. Frank C. Laubach. Its purpose is "to enable illiterate adults and older youth to acquire the listening, speaking, reading, writing and mathematics skills they need to solve the problems they encounter in daily life."

LLA provides print and audio-visual resources, consultation, technical assistance and on-site training of instructors. It claims to be the largest volunteer adult literacy program in the nation.

For information on how to request services or to learn more about LLA, call (315) 422-9121 or write Laubach Literacy Action, 1320 Jamesville Ave., Syracuse, N.Y. 13210.

Although the two organizations offer programs with many similarities, they supplement one another rather than competing. you can not donate your time or talent, your money could help. Both organizations depend for part of their financing on contributions and accept donations from individuals, foundations, and business or community organizations.

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