The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 5, 2007

Parents, you really need to read along with your children

Point Blank column

By John Blankenship

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.

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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.

The U.S. Department of Education claims that at least 20 percent of American adults are functionally illiterate. The group can read words but they cannot comprehend their meanings, synthesize information or make decisions based on what they read.

And at a time when literacy skills are declining, technological gear and gadgets are flooding the market daily, offering myriad new ways to communicate in an expanding global village and entertain a seemingly insatiable market.

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Illiteracy among Americans also signals a growing health risk. Doctors note that adults with limited literacy face formidable problems using the health care system.

In one study, an estimated 30 percent of some 2,650 patients lacked the literacy skills to understand the written instructions on prescription bottles.

At the same time, adults experiencing reading difficulties are less likely to use screening procedures, follow medical regimens, keep appointments or seek help early in the course of a serious illness.

21st century statistics provided by Alan Greenspan, a former government financial adviser, revealed the following:

- Since 2001, the average U.S. household has at least one TV set turned on for about seven hours a day.

- The average school-aged child spends 27 hours per week watching TV (some pre-school children watch much more).

- Over the course of a year, children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school or participating in any other activity except sleep.

- Children’s TV shows contain about 20 violent acts per hour.

- A high percentage of a child’s viewing time is spent watching shows intended for adults: 40 percent of a 6-year-old’s viewing time, and about 80 percent of a 12-year-old’s viewing time.

- An average American child will have watched 100,000 acts of televised violence, including 8,000 murders, by the time he or she finishes the 6th grade.

More recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2004 recommended no TV for children younger than 2 and no more than two hours of high-quality programming for older kids. Frequent TV viewers in early childhood were most likely to score in the highest 10 percent for concentration problems, impulsiveness and restlessness.

Every added hour of watching TV increased a child’s odds of having attention problems by about 10 percent.

At the same time, only 45 percent of parents read to their children, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2005). But children who read with their parents have higher intelligence and reading ability and are better able to comprehend language, improve communication skills, speech recognition and verbal ability.

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a Register-Herald writer. E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net