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Yes, we have a serious literacy problem and it'll get worse if we don't help our citizens become literate.
Our economy, our society, our very democracy depends on an educated workforce. Basic skills are critical to the prosperity and wellbeing of individuals and are key drivers of economic growth and societal advancement. But today, adults in the U.S. score well below the international average in the foundational skills considered most critical for our global competitiveness and economic strength: math, reading and problem-solving. A 2013 study by the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies discovered that 1 in 6 adults have low literacy skills and nearly one-third have weak numeracy and problem solving skills.
Employers often struggle to fill jobs requiring basic skills while literacy funding is at an all-time low. In California, more than half of all adults are not proficient readers and 6,151,072 (almost 1 in 5) have not earned a high school diploma or its equivalent. The costs to society are immense. That’s the bad news.
What’s the good news? Becoming literate for life is not costly and the results are tangible.
Take Enrique, an adult with low literacy skills who was living in the Bay Area with few prospects to find a well-paying job to support his family. Then he stumbled upon a library literacy program that gave him the fundamentals to increase his workplace skills, which helped him to secure a job with a national airline. “When you go into a literacy program, you come out reading. You come out literate. And you never go back,” he says.
Enrique was lucky. The number of out-of-school adults needing help in Sonoma County is considerable. But our adult education services and programs are grossly underfunded and can’t hope to serve everyone in need. Every adult school program in the county, with the exception of Petaluma, has closed in recent years. Library literacy programs can’t meet the demand and Santa Rosa Junior College and other non-profits are trying to fill the gap but waiting lists are long.
If we do nothing, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said, "No matter how hard they work, these adults will be stuck, unable to support their families and contribute fully to our country."
Why should you care? Because we all benefit from an educated society.
On an economic level, the return on investment is huge. A literate workforce attracts more business resulting in higher salaries, enhanced job security, greater productivity, increased consumer spending and tax revenues, reduced correctional costs, and a decreased drain on social services. Literacy is the most basic employable skill, the essential element of economic development and living-wage jobs.
On a personal level, parents are better able to support their children’s education and nurture healthier citizens. When adults gain the power to read and write it is nothing short of transformational – resulting in healthier and, yes, happier communities.
To help address the need in Sonoma, we are launching The Literacyworks Center to provide more basic and workplace skills programs. The Center, partnering with the Santa Rosa Junior College on its Petaluma Campus, will work with underserved basic skills learners to address the educational and logistical issues they must manage to stay in school and succeed in work. The Center will act as a liaison between education programs and monitor each learner’s progress, helping them to complete their educational goals.
How can you help?
Help fund a hero! Support the new Literacyworks Center at SRJC by giving a donation to help administer The Center. Go to Literacyworks.org and click the “Donate” button.
Volunteer! Our local libraries and literacy programs need more tutors.
This Op-Ed appeared in the Press Democrat on November 2, 2014. Written by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey and Paul Heavenridge, it was modified for this blog. Lynn Woolsey is a retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives where she sat on Education and Labor Committees during her 20-year tenure. Paul Heavenridge is Executive Director of Literacyworks. To find out more about the Literacyworks Center, visit Literacyworkscenter.org.
As I was waiting in line for lunch one day the Zen Buddhist in front of me said to the hotdog vendor: "Make me one with everything."
Then woman standing next to me said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I’d never met herbivore.
Join Our Read Out Campaign!
Use the hashtag #ReadOut to upload your video to YouTube, or stream something with Periscope and let us know via email at email@example.com, Tweet us at @Litworksorg, and “like” us on Facebook. Learn more at Literacyworks.org.
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“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” ― Albert Einstein
Parents are a child’s first and most influential teachers.
Parent involvement is the number one predictor of early literacy success and future academic achievement. Research by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that reading daily to young children, starting in infancy, stimulates early brain development and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.
From birth to five, a child learns at a speed unmatched the rest of his or her life. Early learning experiences such as reading provide a love of learning and strongly affects success in school, work and in life.
Yet more than one in three American children start kindergarten without the skills they need to learn to read. About two-thirds of children can’t read proficiently by the end of the third grade. Low literacy skills are directly linked to greater inequality, higher unemployment, less earned income and poor health.
Daily reading and talking with children develops the necessary foundation for success in math, science, reading, a continued love of learning, and social and emotional connections.
A Huffington Post article (dated 09/30/2010) listed 5 Benefits of Reading to Children.
Reading is one of the best ways to develop deep attachments with one’s children. Scholastic suggests parents schedule reading sessions daily and use the moments to enrich their relationships with their children and build their vocabularies.
Secret to Success
Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (2013) research showed that children four to five years of age who are read to three to five times a week are six months ahead of their peers in terms of reading expertise. Children who are read to daily are a year ahead of those who are read to less frequently.
Rich Vocabulary Equals Advantage
Educator Jim Trelease observes that there is a clear difference between conversing with a child and reading to him or her: "The language in books is very rich, and in books there are complete sentences. In books, newspapers, and magazines, the language is more complicated, more sophisticated. A child who hears more sophisticated words has a giant advantage over a child who hasn't heard those words."
Teaching by Example
Reading increases a child's attention span and a parent's own cognitive ability, Trelease says. It is one of the most essential and valuable activities kids can inherit from parents simply by observing them being engrossed in a book or magazine.
Boosting Self Esteem and Communications Skills
Early readers will be equipped with the vocabulary necessary to communicate to their peers, teachers, and parents. Children who have the ability to find the words they want to use are more likely to have a strong self-image, sense of confidence, and higher academic standing.
Bottom Line: Parents, read to your children. Children, read to your parents. We’ll all be better off for it.
Things my parents should have taught me:
1. The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
2. Worrying works! 90% of the things I worry about never happen.
“Immanuel doesn’t pun, he Kant.” - Oscar Wilde’s play on philosopher Immanuel Kant’s name.
Join Our Read Out Campaign!
Use the hashtag #ReadOut to upload your video to YouTube, or stream something with Periscope and let us know via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tweet us at @Litworksorg or like us on Facebook. Learn more at Literacyworks.org.
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