Some highly creative and industrious people in Conway, Arkansas, have developed a unique approach to solving our nation's problem of illiteracy, that has never been done in the history of our country. These people, all volunteers, are building personalized, quality, oak bookcases and giving them, along with a starter set of books, to children in low-income families. What is even more impressive is that this unique approach is not a one-shot thing, nor does it end when these deserving children have a bookcase and some books. What follows on this Website is their story, with enough details to make it possible for you to duplicate this project in your community.
This project -- known as "A Bookcase for Every Child" -- was launched with a group of volunteers building 50 bookcases, while others were conducting a "gently used" book drive that netted over 6,000 volumes. After the books were sorted by reading levels, a special awards ceremony was held, with television and print media coverage, to present the bookcases and books to the children and their parents. A few weeks later, still another group of volunteers began to read to these children, ages three, four and five at the local Head Start Centers each week, and they plan to rotate teams of readers and continue the practice from now on.
All this has been done, and continues to be done, without the use of any tax or government grant money. This bookcase project is the brainchild of nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist Jim Davidson. Jim is giving 100% of the profits from his book "Learning, Earning & Giving Back" to fund the materials for building the bookcases, along with the Newspapers in Education (NIE) program in our schools and to fund journalism internships through state press foundations. This is Jim's own way of giving back to the newspaper industry.
The first thing Jim did was to enlist the help of his good friend Randall Aragon, Chief of Police in Conway, who is also a strong believer in literacy. As a 20-year veteran of law enforcement, Chief Aragon has seen first-hand, the devastation of people's lives and the increase in our nation's crime rates because far too many of our people lack literacy skills.
Over the past several decades our nation has poured billions of tax dollars into public education, with mostly poor results. We have seen a continuing downward spiral in the quality of education our public schools are producing. And it is not just our elementary and high schools that are failing to keep pace with other industrialized nations. Recent studies reveal that only 31% of college graduates are literacy proficient. This is to say that only one-third of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it.
While illiteracy is a massive national problem it must be solved at the local level. The people in Conway, Arkansas, who are involved in this bookcase project, believe the answer to this dilemma does not lie in more tax money for public education. Rather the answer lies in the homes of America with parents and grandparents spending more time reading to and with their children. By using volunteers who love children and who know they are the future of our country, we are tapping into a resource that, over time, can make a real difference. This is easy to understand when you consider that in 1955, 81% of parents read to or with their children. However, today that number has dropped to 21% of parents or adults living in the same household who spend quality time enhancing their children's reading skills.
From our perspective, the reason the Bookcase for Every Child project offers such great promise and hope for the future is the focus we have on young children who live in low-income families. If we are to rebuild the foundation for improved literacy in our nation, this is where we must begin. According to recent statistics, 61% of low-income families in America do not own any books at all, so we are attacking the root of the problem where the need is the greatest. In time, as this concept grows and the word spreads, it will spill over into other areas of our social strata as other parents also get involved in reading to their children.
We will never improve the problem of illiteracy in our nation until we turn off the television and make reading a top priority in the homes ofAmerica once again. The longest journey begins with a single step and if you will come along and carefully read the pages to follow, we are going to break the "Bookcase for Every Child" project down into five phases and give a step-by-step explanation of our project and how you and your fellow citizens can develop a similar project in your own community. During the first cycle of our project, we had some great newspaper publicity and with the blessing and approval of our local publisher, we are going to make available here, the many articles that have been written to inform and inspire the citizens of our community to get involved, to give you a model of what to aim for.
It will take a little time and study to grasp the whole concept but when you and others see what can be done, and what you can do to be a part of this community-wide effort, you will be as excited as we are.
It's time that we all stop wringing our hands about the problem of illiteracy and start doing something about it. As you consider the consequences of not doing anything about this crippling national problem, and what you can do to help, just remember that no load is too heavy if enough people are carrying it. What we are going to propose that you do, is probably different from anything you have ever heard before. If we work together, it can be done.