This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 2, 1997

July 2, 1997 - Literacy and Democracy

Two days from today we celebrate Independence Day. July 4, 1776 is the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.

The notion of a free and independent people is based on something most people don’t think much about: the ability to read. The idea of an “informed citizenry” is sprinkled throughout our founders’ writings. Remember that these were the days before television and radio. To be informed, one had to be a close follower of newspapers and political pamphlets, the format for political discourse in 1776.

You might ask if anybody today forms political opinions based primarily on written materials. But you might not be thrilled by the answer.

Despite technological advances, more than 200 years after the founding of this country, the best information about our local, state, national, and international affairs is still predicated on the written word. Newspapers and magazines give far more comprehensive and thoughtful coverage of issues than the sound bites of TV or radio.

But just suppose that you can’t read. The best estimates suggest that as many as one fourth of the American populace can’t decipher a newspaper headline, much less the story beneath it. They can’t read the label on a soup can. They can’t read the instructions on a prescription.

Let’s be blunt. Perhaps 25% of our adult citizenry is illiterate. It may not be quite that high in Douglas County. But it’s probably at least 10%. Such rates are more than a shame. They’re an early warning sign of civic breakdown.

It was just this year that the Douglas Public Library District established its own adult literary program. Some of our students and tutors we carried over from the now-defunct Adult Center for Teaching (ACT) and (as it was later known) the Center for Adult Literacy and Learning or CALL. But many of our current students have discovered the program just this year.

Adult education falls into three areas: Adult Basic Education (English-speaking folks who are just beginning to learn to read), G.E.D. students (people working on their high school equivalency certificate), and English as a Second Language (people who may be literate in their own native language, but have yet to learn English). ESL students are among our more problematic. Our tutor program is volunteer-based. Right now we have the greatest need for tutors who can speak either Spanish or Chinese.

Penny Perkins, Literacy Coordinator for the district, will be holding tutor training sessions on July 26 (an overview of our general adult literacy program) and on August 2 (a discussion of basic literacy and ESL in the morning, and GED in the afternoon).

If you know of someone in need of our program, please urge that person to give us a call. The one-on-one tutoring service is both free and confidential.

Or if you would like to assist another human being to master the fundamental skill of literacy, here’s the deal: you give a minimum of an hour a week, for at least 6 months. Training and materials are provided at no cost.

What do you get in return? Speaking as a former tutor myself, you get paid twice: once in the appreciation of just how subtle and powerful our written language can be, and again through the thrill of transmitting this vital civic and personal skill to another. Again, our tutors are all volunteers.

Students and trainers both should call 841-6942.

Reading: it’s the American way.

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