“Elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue to our history as the abolition of slavery.” ~ Maya Angelou

There are some moments in life that you will never forget,defining moments where your life changes and just cannot go back to being what it was before that moment. I remember my son slowly getting off the bus after his third day of 4th grade tears in his eyes and shoulders hunched over. The mom in me knew this was something bigger and deeper than a disagreement on the playground or a lunch he didn’t like, it looked as though a weight was on his shoulders.

We went inside and he looked at me crying telling me how his teacher called on him to read aloud in class and when he couldn’t she proceeded to call him lazy and tell him that unless he started “paying attention” he would never read. It took all I had to hold my absolutely disgust for this teacher and what she said inside and comfort my son. That next morning after an unproductive meeting with the principal I contacted the Special Education Director of Westfield where I was told my son was “intellectually impaired” and that he would most like be a grocery bagger for the rest of his life and I needed to accept this. I do not know any mom that would think that of her child let alone accept that was her childs future. Within one week we had an emergency IEP meeting organized, I hired an Advocate and I was changed forever by what I saw, heard and went through.

Clinton is now thriving in his new school, that fourth grade teacher was fired and I can breathe a little easier knowing my sons future is bright, but my heart still hurts thinking of those children and parents still deep in that fight and that pain. I will never forget the shame and embarassment on my sons face that day in fourth grade. Illiteracy is a nationwide problem. I do not know exactly how and where the tide turned and children just started getting past through not even close to grade level. I do not know why some teachers are not supported in their schools. I do not know why our childrens futures are coming down to dollar signs and budgets. All I know is that we have to do better, day by day we have too.

Illiteracy statistics are frightening and will only continue to worsen if nothing is done. Approximately 32 million adults in America are considered to be illiterate and about 14% of the entire adult population cannot read. Readind material becomes more complex for students around the fifth grade and some 30 million adults are not able to comprehend texts that are appropriate for 10 year olds. Between 40 and 44 million adults or roughly 20 to 23% of adults in the United States are limited to reading at basic or below basic proficiency levels. The one most outrageous to me is that among developed nations, the United States ranks 16th for adult reading skills.

Illiteracy has a profound impact on every area of a persons life. I am firm believer everyone can learn to read but sadly not everyone does. Illiteracy can be a major barrier to young adults who might be interested in going to college or finding a stable job. Without a goal to work towards or a means of earning a living, engaging in criminal behavior may become a real possibility. Studies suggest that two-thirds of students who struggle with reading by fourth grade will run into trouble with the law at some point. Approximately 85% of youth who come into contact with the juvenile court are considered to be functionally illiterate, meaning they read at a basic or below basic level. Literacy rates aren’t much improved among the adult prison population. About 70% of male and female inmates score at the lowest proficiency level for reading.

The impact of illiteracy is almost immediately felt at an individual level, but there is a trickle down affect that touches the economy as a whole. In terms of lost productivity , it is estimated that the portion of the population that can not read costs the nation a staggering $225 billion each year. It can also impact the health care system to the tune of $100 billion annually.

I have thrown some cold, impersonal numbers at you which may be big but may not mean much on a screen. I ask you to remember that behind those numbers are people even perhaps people we know and love, our neighbors, friends, family or even our child. The bad news is there is no quick fix but there are help and resources out there for adults and adolescents. If you know someone who is struggling but they are too embarrassed to reach out for help, let them know they aren’t alone. Sometimes that is all it takes to make a change in someone’s life.


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