Anyone Can Read Now
The extent and seriousness of English functional illiteracy exceeds your worst NIGHTMARE,
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1. Definition of Functional Illiteracy
There are obviously several different ways of determining literacy rate. What should be sought in any determination of literacy rate is accuracy. If researchers have an agenda in their determination of literacy they can determine the outcome by (1) carefully choosing the interviewees or subjects of the study, (2) carefully choosing starting and ending dates of the study in the collection of the data, or by (3) eliminating some of the test data as being "irrelevant" or "erroneous." Even if the researchers do not have an agenda their results can be erroneous if they do not include enough study subjects or a long enough study period or if a method that is not statistically accurate is used.
Many studies of illiteracy are based upon simply asking people if they are literate, or what grade in school they completed. Other studies are concluded very soon because the researchers incorrectly decide they have found enough data to be representative of the entire group of people they are studying.
Many believe that the U.S. is a highly literate society because of the official U.S. Census Bureau reports. See information on Census Bureau reports on 3. Why We Do Not See the Seriousness of the Problem, in the sidebar, for why the U.S. Census Bureau reports on U.S. literacy rates have been proven to be inaccurate.
Quite obviously, a study method that tests the literacy of each interviewee is far superior to one in which the subjects of the study are simply asked if they can read. Testing was the method that was used in the Adult Literacy in America study. We have all seen studies or polls in which 1,000 people are studied and then see the statement that the study represents the entire U.S. population with a two or three percent margin of error. Although there are literacy studies using not many more test subjects that 1,000, that is not the method used with the Adult Literacy in America study. It was a five-year $14 million study using lengthy interviews of 26,049 people statistically chosen by age, gender, ethnicity, and location (urban, suburban, and rural from a dozen states across the U.S. and including 1,100 prisoners from 80 prisons) to represent the entire U.S. population. The study grouped the interviewees in one of five literacy groups according to how well they responded to written material in English that they were given to read.
In addition to the interviewee's response to the written material they were given to read, the Adult Literacy in America study reported other facts about the interviewees which made the determination of the rate of functional illiteracy very accurate. If anyone trying to determine the characteristics of another person has a financial interest in the outcome of their study, they have a much greater incentive to be accurate. When employers are seeking new employees, it is in their financial interest to hire workers who can do the job for which they are being hired. Most jobs today cannot be done as efficiently by a functional illiterate as they can by someone who is fully literate. Although a very small percentage of employers will hire persons they know to be functionally illiterate and see to it that they are taught to read, most will not. Therefore, functional illiterates are much more likely to be unemployed. By reporting the number of days each year that the interviewees were employed part-time, full-time, unemployed but looking for work, and unemployed and out of the labor market, the report presented a much more accurate picture of the functional illiteracy rate of the interviewees.
As a result, this website and the book Let's End Our Literacy Crisis uses the following definition of functional illiteracy. Functional illiterates are those who may be able to read as many as one or two thousand simple words learned in the first three grades in school but cannot read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job.
In today's world, we Americans like to believe that we are more advanced in our knowledge than at any time in the past. In some ways, of course, that is true, but our literacy rate has actually declined from what it was in the 1700s and early 1800s. This is true for several reasons.
In the 1700s and early 1800s the tasks given to teachers were much more burdensome than today. They not only had to teach, many of them were required to take care of the schoolroom as well -- janitorial duties and taking care of the heating and cooling of the classroom. Most of them worked much longer than eight hours per day. Grading papers and teachers' reports were all done without the benefit of computers and printers. Teachers' unions and "progressive" educational leaders made changes that reduced the burden on the teachers and the amount of subject matter taught. Then in the early 1900s an increasing number of pleasurable activities took up much of the long hours that students previously spent on rote memorization of words in their reading vocabulary. In addition, new negative influences in the last half of the 1900s also took time away from learning to read. See the first paragraph of page "5. English Spelling Confuses Everyone" in the sidebar. As a result neither students nor teachers had the patience to spend the long hours on learning each word in their reading vocabulary as were spent in simpler times. "Whole word" methods and various combinations of other similar methods were adopted and are silll in use instead of the boring, long hours of rote-memory learning which had been used successfully in the past. See the books The New Illiterates, N.E.A., Trojan Horse in American Education, and The Whole Language/OBE Fraud, written by an education insider, Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld. Unfortunately, a lower reading ability inevitably produces a lower level of learning in a given time period.
In case you think the previous paragraph is an exaggeration, please consider the 1895 Salina, Kansas Eighth Grade Final Exam, taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina. The truth is that many of today's college graduates could not pass this test. The truth is that many 13 and 14 year-old students in the early 1800s had the knowledge they needed to serve well as ambassadors or presidential cabinet members in representing the U.S. in Europe, as some of them did successfully.
Note that the time period given to complete this test was only five hours.
Grammar (Time, one hour)
Arithmetic (Time, 1 hour 15 minutes)
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
Orthography (Time, one hour)
Geography (Time, one hour)
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