A Silent Epidemic of Adult Illiteracy which is Killing us Internally Everyday.

A Silent Epidemic of Adult Illiteracy which is Killing us Internally Everyday.

I spent three years as a literacy coordinator at non-profit organization dedicated to Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language. During my time in this position, I was astounded at the need in my city.

In Rockford, Illinois where the population is roughly 152,000 people, 20% of the population ages 25 and older do not have their GED or high school diploma; that’s 30,400 people. There are very few jobs that someone can find without a GED, and it is nearly impossible to support yourself, let alone a family, on the wages.

At the organization I worked at, we focused on adults reading at or below the ninth grade reading level, and back to the staggering statistics of my city: approximately 12,000 adults are within that reading level.

There are very few jobs that someone can find without a GED, and it is nearly impossible to support yourself, let alone a family, on the wages. At the organization I worked at, we focused on adults reading at or below the ninth grade reading level, and back to the staggering statistics of my city: approximately 12,000 adults are within that reading level.

adult illiteracy

I encourage you to look at your city’s statistics as it relates to adult illiteracy. It is a problem in our country that is far from a resolution. I was often asked this common question in regard to the astonishing city statistics: “How can this be?”.

It is alarming and surprising to many that in our modern society and our current education systems that it is possible that there are still so many adults unable to read. The answer to that question is multi-faceted.

Some of the adults are senior citizens that were raised in a different time without truancy officers and the vast special education services we have now. However, at least half of the people I worked with were 30 years old or younger. They were the product of the broken education system and/or grew up in very dysfunctional families.

Some of the students were raised by parents that barely spoke English, and now as an adult they have incredibly strong English conversation skills, but never really learned how to read or write in English or Spanish.

If they grew up in a home where the primary language is not English, and they didn’t have additional support, it would be incredibly hard to read at grade level and keep up with your classmates.

adult basic education

What’s the outcome?

So the frustration continues and sometimes the students just give up and drop out.

We have all heard the statistics that if a student is not reading at grade level by third grade, the student is four times more likely to not graduate high school. The statistic is real. I saw it every day. I even had adults come in that graduated high school and tested at a second or third-grade reading level.

Some of these students received special education services in school, others did not. The common thread among most of them was their sweet demeanor. They were polite, kind, and reserved, and unfortunately, it seems they were passed through the system.

I am not writing this article to point fingers at anyone because the problem is so much more complex than that. There are so many contributing factors, but in all cases these people were at one time or another a child that slipped through the cracks and the result of a broken system.

Whoever you are that is reading this article, I know you can’t singlehandedly fix this problem.

How can we act?

I know you didn’t cause this problem, but I want as many people as I can to understand the plight of these courageous, humble individuals I encountered in my three years at this organization. They made a very difficult phone call and admitted they needed help with something that everyone assumes they can do or assumes they should be able to do.

Many of these adults are now parents, and they want to stop the cycle of illiteracy, but they need help. They voluntarily attend tutoring sessions or enroll in classes.

Many of the students keep their attendance a secret from friends and family due to shame, but they come and make remarkable progress proving that it is never too late to learn.

The real point of this article is make you aware of the epidemic of adult illiteracy. My hope is that I placed a nugget in your mind the next time you work with a student with non-native parents or parents that clearly struggle with literacy themselves, and make some extra effort to get this child some extra help.

It doesn’t need to be you taking the student under your wing and tutoring him/her, but maybe making a referral to the special education department or what we called the RTI Team (Response to Intervention) or even providing the parents with information about adult education programs in your area.

I know every educator has wondered years after an encounter with a student: I wonder what became of ________? Well, for many of them, I have seen where they are at now, and it is devastating. We can only improve the situation of adult illiteracy if we are all aware of its severity and across the country make efforts to improve education at all levels.

Thank you for all you are doing to educate our youth and build stronger communities.

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