The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 5, 2007

Parents, you really need to read along with your children

Point Blank column

Nearly half of the U.S. population is affected by it.

And we’re not talking about oil company deceit, influenza, AIDS, mental illness, or liberal extremists — we’re talking about illiteracy.

A number of national literacy studies reveal that an estimated 47 percent of the American adult population performs only the simplest reading skills.

Astonishing as this may seem, it’s true.

Fewer than 40 million Americans can complete any challenging literary tasks that require above average reading skills — meaning they can add the total on a bank slip or identify a piece of specific information in a brief news article.

And what’s more, only another 50 million can calculate a total purchase, determine the difference in price between two items and locate a specific point on a map.

Believe it or not, only about 60 million persons in the country can decipher information from long texts or legal documents.

An estimated 25 million Americans cannot read or write at all.

An additional 45 million persons are considered “functionally illiterate” — those without the reading or writing skills to find work. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans do not know they do not have the skills to earn a living in our increasingly technological society, according to a statement released a decade ago by the U.S. Secretary of Education.


In an historical perspective, this phenomenon does not bode well for America.

Culture and civilization traditionally have flourished or fallen with literacy and a common language.

When common knowledge becomes accessible to all, common values are defined and pursued.

In our post industrial era, most Americans make a living with their heads instead of their hands. Education — not steel, coal or even capital — is the key to our economic future.

It is estimated that each year more than 700,000 high school seniors graduate unable to read their high school diploma.

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