Illiteracy issues in America

Danielle Zukowski

Many Americans view illiteracy as a foreign issue. It’s common for a lot of us to recognize it as a significant problem in other parts of the world, but ultimately feel it is irrelevant in America because they don’t have any direct experience with it.

Being here at Grand Valley State University implies we have received and are continuing to receive an advantageous education that allows us the privilege of not having to consider the actuality of American illiteracy. Despite it not being as prevalent of an issue in America as it can be in countries such as Afghanistan and Burkina Faso, it is not nonexistent.

According to the Literacy Center of West Michigan, one in eight adults in Kent County is functionally illiterate. To be functionally illiterate is essentially the inability to use written material to get by in everyday life and expand knowledge. The illiteracy rate in Grand Rapids is much lower than that of Detroit, but there’s no reason it should be this high for either in consideration of our state’s resources.

America isn’t underdeveloped. We provide free public education. All students are mandated to attend; why does illiteracy exist at all in America? How are people passing high school if they are functionally illiterate? Are they somehow not attending? Are they copying homework? Are the teachers not observing their work?

There must be a problem somewhere in the educational system if people are graduating with illiteracy. And some are. Some of those who are illiterate may have not been attending school at all, getting around the system but, as a legal obligation, it doesn’t make sense.

If they are attending school, they may be barely passing and just getting by to reach a diploma, but they are putting the piece of paper above the worth of actual education. We have the resources, why aren’t they being utilized?

Poverty plays a major issue in illiteracy. When parents are focused on being able to put food on the table, other issues are likely to become marginalized. Parents have to work; they don’t have time to take them to monuments, libraries, museums or other places to expand on their education.

They probably aren’t able to make sure their children are getting to and from school. Their children aren’t being provided the opportunities to practice their skills. Money isn’t spent on purchasing books for children. Their parents can’t adequately encourage their educations or nourish their minds. They are left to find motivation within themselves. This is extremely difficult without a solid support system.

It’s easy to forget about these issues when they don’t feel directly applicable. Most of us have been surrounded by fortunate education all of our lives. We had parents that read us bedtime stories. Our teachers observed our learning process. If there appeared to be a major hindrance to our understanding capacity, it was brought up in parent-teacher conferences. We were presented opportunities to use and improve our reading and writing skills.

This blinds us to the potential of others not having the same experience when it feels so readily available. Illiteracy is not an overwhelming issue in America, but it shouldn’t be an issue at all.