What Is “Literacy” Anyway?
Once the most common definition of literacy was “the ability to read and write.”
Nowadays, the word is used in a variety of ways. Some high schools offer what they call “literacy classes” that require students to read works that in the old days would have been studied in “English classes.”
I’ll just describe what I mean by literacy for the purposes of this site.
The ability to read and write exists on a spectrum.
At one end of the spectrum, literacy is the ability to read highway notices and to sign one’s name to a legal document.
At the other end, literacy is the ability to read a challenging novel like Tolstoy’s War and Peace with interest and understanding and to write a critical review of it for an academic publication.
Most working adults can get along fine at the Basic Literacy level.
DISCLAIMER: These four labels as used on the American English Doctor site do not mean the same thing to everyone who writes about literacy.
Literacy is not an option.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of Americans could earn a decent living without achieving Basic Literacy as defined on this site.
Nowadays, the inability to read at a basic level puts a person at a huge social, economic, and political disadvantage.
Most children can reach the level of Basic Literacy by the age of thirteen.
Not all children will achieve the same level of literacy because they differ in upbringing, interests, and intellectual ability.
Most children, however, can reach the level of Basic Literacy by the age of thirteen.
Unfortunately, millions of children leave school every year without the ability to read at that level.
Three of every ten children who begin school will drop out without completing high school. If they have not learned to read by the time they drop out, they will be forever limited in their prospects of a desirable life.
Of those who stay to graduate, only about thirty percent complete their senior year with the ability to read and write at a what the NAEP defines as a “Proficient” level.
Before schools were available to all children, parents who could read taught their children to read.
Today’s parents tend to believe that reading should be left to the experts.
Unfortunately, reading is not well taught in every school.
For several decades, teachers have been trained in an ineffective method of reading instruction.
Parents can prepare their children for reading success before they get to school by making the most of their preschool years.
Our public schools are still the best hope for a just society, but they have become political battlegrounds. Corporate interests color educational practice. Teachers are often limited in their choice of the most effective teaching methods.
Do not interpret these remarks as an attack on public education. US public schools remain the most important guardian of national social stability. However, no school—public or private—can be all things to all children.
There are approximately 100,000 public schools in the United States. Some have better resources and administrations than others. Some schools provide better language instruction than others.
The current trend in education focuses on technology and vocational training. This shift in priorities has affected instruction in reading, writing, and basic grammar—and not for the good.
Parents who want their children to achieve a level of literacy that will enable them to thrive in school and in life must involve themselves in their early education. Acquaint yourself with the levels of literacy described on this site. Pay attention to your child’s language experience in their preschool years. Monitor their reading and writing progress when they get to school. Regardless of your own level of education or the amount of time you have available, you can do much to insure your children against reading failure.