If you can read, it probably seems like everyone can, and it seems like literacy is no big deal. In reality, it is a very big deal. One in seven U.S. adults can’t read. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s about 14%. In a group of 100 people, about 14 of them can’t read. On a global level, 774 million people are illiterate and two-thirds of those are women.
I’ll admit that I have taken literacy for granted. My mother taught me to read when I was 3 or 4 (she says I taught myself, but I’m not sure I believe that), and I can’t remember not being able to read. Not only can I read, but I read well (and in more than one language), so I have access to more printed material than I could ever consume. These days, though, I am keenly aware that there are millions of women in this country and abroad who can’t read and, as a result, don’t have the opportunities that I do. I am now profoundly grateful.
Literacy is not just about economic opportunity. For many people it is about survival.
Almost twenty-five years ago, I was teaching a bilingual (Spanish-English) 4th grade class in southern California. It was that year that I learned how much literacy really matters. I had a young girl in my class that year named Elena. Elena was a very bright girl with excellent literacy skills in Spanish. Her command of spoken English, however, was very basic, and our school district had very specific guidelines for English reading. One of the criteria was the achievement of conversational fluency in English. As a new teacher, I was following district procedures by not including Elena in my English reading group, but I was working with her intensively on developing her English conversational skills.
Until my first meeting with her mother in October that year. Continue reading If You Can Read This, Be Grateful