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Why You Didn't Know

There are several reasons.

You May Not Have Seen the Report or It Was Not Covered.

The results of even important and extensive studies of literacy do not appear in all of the media for these reasons:

  1. The literacy study may not be covered if there are too many "more important" stories to be covered. By the time all the more important stories have been covered, the results of the study are no longer "news."
  2. Some media executives have their reporters cover studies showing results they disagree with. Many will not;
  3. Media executives are sometimes afraid that reporting unfavorable results from a study will alienate them from groups from whom they desire support.

    Obviously not all studies fit all three items. As a result, literacy and learning to read may—for example—be front page newspaper stories in some newspapers. It may be totally ignored in others.
llliterates Are Exceptionally Good at Hiding.

The number of U.S. adults who cannot read at all is very small. But if they only know 1200-1600 simple words they learned by sight in the first four grades in school, they are functionally illiterate. They can't read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. They have developed many coping skills for their inability to read over the years. Chances are very good that many of your acquaintances are functional illiterates. They may be very knowledgeable. They may even be eloquent speakers. They just didn't get their knowledge or eloquence from reading.

Grade-Level Completion Does NOT equal Grade-Level Competence.

Many people assume that after several years of school the students know how to read. Every teacher knows, however—even though they may be in denial of the fact—that this is not necessarily true. Having sat out several years of schooling does not guarantee an outcome. The students may not know even a small fraction of what they have been "taught."

Illiteraces Are a Silent Minority.

Out of embarrassment, illiterates are a silent minority. Community and cultural leaders of groups with a large number of illiterates do not want that fact publicized. They fear it will give their “enemies” (racists and class-conscious persons) ammunition against those who cannot read.

Self-Esteem Teaching in School Is Very Effective.

Perhaps today's most successful teaching in U.S. elementary schools is the teaching of self esteem. Studies have shown that U.S. students often overestimate their scholastic abilities. The U.S. scored worse than all but two nations in a recent math and science competition with about twenty other nations. Some of the U.S. students in that competition bragged that they were “good at math.” Some of them were not only not "good at math," they may also have difficulty reading their math books.

The U.S. Census Reports Greatly Over-Estimate Literacy.

Many believe the U.S. is a highly literate nation because of census statistics. The last two or three census reports claimed a U.S. is literacy rate of 99%. It is in the short-term interest of politicians and education officials to believe these figures. This is not to say that there was necessarily any conscious deception. Jonathan Kozol's shocking book, Illiterate America, pages 37-38, explained how these figures were decided upon. Once we understand how the census bureau did the studies, we will be likely to agree with Jonathan Kozol. He thought the accuracy of the census reports was open to serious doubt. In fact, the "Adult Literacy In America" study proves the Census Bureau figures on the literacy rate are wrong.

Sensory Overload.

We are constantly bombarded with information, much of it bad news. The world seems to go on with little effect despite the bad news about literacy. We soon learn to ignore much of it. This is because we often do not want to believe it. Sometimes we have seen a later report denying the validity of the bad news. After a few years we have forgotten most of the bad news even if we initially thought it was significant.

We Do Not See Large Portions of Our Population in Poverty.

In most cases, more than one family member is employed. If all workers in the family are functionally illiterate, the family may be at or below the poverty line. If one or more of the workers in the family are literate, they bring the family above the poverty line. Also, most low-income families receive financial assistance from government(s), family, friends, and/or charities.
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