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, September 16, 1998

September 16, 1998 - Adult Literacy Statistics

If you’re reading this column, congratulations! You have mastered a skill denied to some 40 million adults.

You are literate.

About a year ago (October 1997), the teacher’s journal Phi Delta Kappan reported on the results of the First International Adult Literacy Survey. The adults (ages 16-65) were tested on their ability to understand text information. The news wasn’t good: 20.7% of US adults are at the lowest reading level. Just 3.8% of US adults were at the highest level.

Again, the raw number of adult illiterates in this country is estimated at around 40 million. What’s the cause? Poverty is often correlated with illiteracy, although in fact the inability to read stretches across every socioeconomic class (as well as age group). Some attribute illiteracy to our cultural fascination with electronic media and the emphasis on visual imagery -- but even before TV, not everyone learned to read.

Some interesting research into the history of textbooks demonstrates that shortly after World War II, textbooks suffered an abrupt decline in the complexity of their vocabularies. This roughly parallels the introduction of the staggeringly boring and inane Dick and Jane reading primers.

In a recent column I lamented the rise of USA Today as the most popular newspaper in America. But it should surprise no one that when you treat children as morons, they grow up demanding newspapers based on little words and big pictures.

In schools, even the best schools, there are educational trends, swinging from highly structured phonics to more unstructured immersion, to such faddish approaches as the “look say” method (where you were supposed to learn to recognize words by their SHAPES), then back again. Many educators seem not to grasp the obvious fact: some children learn best through one method, some through another. ANY method, if offered as the sole approach, will inevitably fail some students.

Other research proves that it takes just 20 hours of instruction and practice for most people (barring profound learning disabilities) to learn at least the basics of reading.

So consider this a challenge. Would you be willing to give back that 20 hours, or perhaps twice that in a year, to pass on your skill to another human being?

If so, the Adult Literacy Program of the Douglas Public Library District needs you. At this writing, we have 7 students waiting for tutors.

All of our tutors receive training and materials, provided by Penny Perkins, Coordinator of our program. Our next training session will be held at the Parker Library, 9 a.m. to noon, and stretches across three days: October 17, 24 and 31. All are Saturdays.

In the training, you’ll learn about all kinds of tips and tricks to help people grab hold of a skill most of us can’t imagine living without. And you’ll come to realize just how precious that skill can be.

Our tutors are volunteers. Most of the tutoring happens at one of our libraries -- a sort of business appointment with the student, typically one hour a week. The program is free to those in need of it, although we may ask them to purchase a workbook -- our experience is that the modest purchase makes students literally feel “invested” in the process, and stick with it.

It takes courage for adults to come forward and admit their inability to read. To overcome that inability, it takes thoughtfulness, discipline and patience for student and tutor alike.

But every single year, our program racks up incalculable human victories: people who become citizens, people who get their GED’s, people who for the first time fill out a job application by themselves, people who are now able to read a book to a beloved grandchild.

Please call 303-841-6942 if you would like to be a part of that. I guarantee: it will change your life. And you will make a difference in someone else’s.

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