Adult illiteracy focus of National Literacy month – How can you help?

Engraving of a Reader

Engraving of a Reader 

Rates of adult illiteracy in the United States still fall into double digits. Such high statistics will provide food for thought during September when we will celebrate National Literacy Month. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 19% of high school graduates can’t read. What can you do to be part of the solution? Here are a few ideas for celebrating National Literacy Month 2013.

Adult illiteracy

According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy, 14 percent of U.S. adults can’t read. This percent translates to 32 million people. What’s more, 21 percent of U.S. adults read below a fifth grade level. Worldwide, 774 million people can’t read. More than half, 66 percent, are women.

Why are high rates of illiteracy a problem and what can be done? While it’s true that literacy rates among U.S. children haven’t changed much over the past forty years, the requirements to enter the workforce have. Gone are the blue-collar jobs that required little skill. Workers today must be able to read and think at an advanced level.

Richard Murnane, Isabel Sawhill and Catherine Snow explained the deeper implications of illiteracy and offered a solution in their Fall 2012 article for The Future of Children titled, “Literacy Challenges for the Twenty-First Century: Introducing the Issue.”

To raise levels of literacy among children will require knowledgeable and qualified teachers. “[…]we would cite the impact in Finland and Singapore of improving the quality of classroom teachers by limiting access to the teaching profession to the top college graduates and by according teachers the high levels of respect due to professionals engaged in shaping the next generation,” the authors concluded.

Change a life – become an adult literacy tutor

Imagine going through life without being able to read. You can’t enjoy a newspaper, magazine or the Internet. Traveling is impossible because you can’t read a bus or airline schedule. Your life may be at risk because you can’t read the label on your medication. Your earning power will be limited to low wage jobs that offer no advancement.

Chances are, you know someone who is functionally illiterate. How can you recognize this person? Sandra Bynum offered clues in her article for titled, “Promote Adult Literacy by Teaching Reading Skills.”

Noting that those who can’t read find creative ways to cope, Bynum explained, “If someone you know regularly ‘forgets’ his or her glasses, or never ‘has time’ to fill out a form or to read instructions, it is possible that this person is unable to read. Help him or her acquire literacy by offering personal tutoring.”

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn how to read. If you want to help change a life by being a reading tutor, then check with your public library or with An Internet search for tutoring programs in your city may uncover a local program where you may volunteer.

Literacy programs

How does an adult with limited reading skills find help in learning to read? Checking the yellow pages or going online won’t work very well if you can’t read. However, assistance may be as close as the nearest shopping mall.

For more than 50 years, ProLiteracy has worked to educate the adult population. ProLiteracy’s Dollar General Student Referral project places a student referral brochure at the checkout counters of its 10,000 stores. Prospective students or family members can send an enclosed postcard to ProLiteracy and receive a referral to local literacy programs.

According to, “In order to track the progress of students, ProLiteracy follows up with service providers after six months. With this team approach to finding and nurturing people who need help, we’ve connected 70,000 adults to the literacy resources they need.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Dollar General Student Referral Project, visit the ProLiteracy web site and email them for information.

Celebrate National Literacy Month – Read a book

Perhaps the best way to celebrate National Literacy Month is to read a new book and talk about your favorite books with your friends. You’ll find thousands of books to choose from at Questia, the Internet’s largest online library of full-text books and articles.

You may be interested in these newly added titles:

  • Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ by Mark Katz
  • How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, with Select Translations by Carl W. Ernst
  • Learn Sign Language in a Hurry: Grasp the Basics of American Sign Language Quickly and Easily by Irene Duke

What is your favorite book to curl up with? Tell us about it in the comments.

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