Illiteracy in United States


Illiteracy in America can have negative and devastating effects on society as a whole. The effects that illiteracy has range from embarrassment, to low self-esteem, as well as high crime rates. Illiteracy seems to have an even more devastating effect in the lower income communities.

Driving down a street and not knowing how to read the street signs can be scary to an illiterate person. Even worse, sitting in a classroom and being called on by an instructor to read aloud and not being able to read, can be even more frightening. There are many Americans faced with these types of challenges and nowhere to turn, because they are afraid and embarrassed. As in Edward P. Jones’s, The First Day, the embarrassment the mother had to face while enrolling her child into school is disheartening. While trying to fill out the paper work for her child, she says, “This form. Would you mind helpin me fill it out? The woman still seems not to understand. “I can’t read it. I don’t know how to read or write, and I’m askin you to help me” (109). The mother in “The First Day” had to say this in front of her child. It must have taken a lot of courage for her to speak up that day. As you see this is the perfect example of embarrassment and humiliation that an illiterate person has to deal with on a day to day basis.
Negative effects of illiteracy in America are also heavy in politics. One has to wonder how someone who can’t read or write manages to vote. In order for a person to vote or make a wise decision about who they should vote for, one must know how to read. As Jonathan Kozol writes in “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society”:
The number of illiterate adults exceeds by 16 million the entire vote cast for the
winner in the 1980 presidential contest. If even on third of all illiterates could
vote, and read enough and do sufficient math to vote in their self-interest,
Ronald Regan would not likely have been chosen president. There is, of course,
no way to know for sure” (165).
Kegan makes a great point. Most illiterate people that do vote, vote based on what the person looks like and not what they know about the person and what they can do to help.

In doing this our society is threatened by the fact that the right officials may not be elected because the percentage of illiterate voters may not choose the person best suited for the position. That is a scary thought, but one to think about.

Communication is key when trying to earn an education. Younger students may be dealing with things at home that make them afraid to ask questions in the classroom, so they are left wondering the answers to those questions. Other students may have more confidence in themselves and their parents may have taught them that the only dumb question is the one not asked. Therefore, self-esteem and communication play a major role in illiteracy.

Robert Bickel and Sande Milton write; in “The Social Circumstances of Illiteracy: Interpretation and Exchange in a Class- Based Society:
As communication breaks down, the thoroughly social process of learning to read may
Become a threatening activity, a source of humiliation, in which some students feel that
Rewards, recognition, punishment, and subordination are distributed unfairly. Moreover,
not learning to read may become not only a continuing act of self-defense and passive-aggressive defiance, but a political statement of loyalty to the ethnically homogeneous peer group- the emergent alternative to conventional classroom organization. (207)

In reading this, it proves that an illiterate person may use a defense mechanism, like showing anger to hide the fact that they can’t read. This particular defense mechanism can lead to a high crime rate. Crime leads to overcrowded jails, which lead to higher taxes, and the list goes on and on.

Illiteracy in America seems to be an issue that does not receive enough public attention. There are so many illiterate people in society who may overdose because they can’t read the directions on a prescription. There are even more illiterate people incarcerated and would rather stay incarcerated to hide the fact that they can’t read or write. Programs for these types of people should begin during elementary school, so that children know exactly what they may be faced with when they become an adult. Teachers should embrace the student who seems to sit in the back of the class and shy away from the other students. More one on one time spent with the student who seems to act out in a bad way the most, while in class. The student, who is not paying attention and seeking attention in negative ways, is acting out for a reason, but it is up to the teachers to pay attention in order to try to intervene and possibly stop the problem before it starts.

Illiteracy seems to be a growing problem in America that can’t be fixed overnight. More programs need to be created and more parents need to be involved in the education of their children. Offering programs for illiterate people and advertising these programs should be priority over alcohol and condom commercials. There should be programs offered for illiterate people during election time, more than another time of the year. To do this would help so many Americans feel liberated and apart of something. It may even encourage some to go back to

school and further their education. Slowly the world could change and what a wonderful world it could be. This task would be too much for one person to handle alone, therefore, the world needs to get involved if there is going to be change.

Works Cited

Bickel, Robert, and Sande Milton. “The Social Circumstances of Illiteracy: Interpretation and
Exchange in a Class-Based Society.” The Urban Review. Vol. 15, No. 4, 1983: 203-214
Jones, P. Edward. “The First Day.” The Blair Reader. Seventh Edition: 107-110
Kozal, Jonathan. “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society.” The Blair Reader. Seventh Edition:
164-172

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