No. 536



If you have read my column on any kind of consistent basis over the past several months, you know one of the things I am deeply concerned about is the declining rates of literacy in our country. I am concerned for several important reasons, and one of the most important is the individual who is hurt or affected most because they cannot read or write.
In our society today, just think about the kinds of opportunities an illiterate person has, as opposed to others who have these skills. Needless to say, we are all paying a high price for the millions of our citizens who cannot perform even the most simple literacy tasks. We live in a high-tech world and the words high-tech and literacy are synonymous.
In light of what I have just said, here is a question I would like to ask you to ponder for the next few minutes. How serious is our nation's literacy problem? Before you answer that question, please allow me to share some information I just received that may shed a little more light on this subject. An article written by Louis Romano that appeared in the Washington Post in December 2005 stated, "Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment that shows the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade with no obvious explanation."
The article continues with a quote by Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. "It's appalling Ñ it's really astounding. Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That's not saying much for the remainder." Sadly, what is even more astounding is that this number was 40 percent back in 1992 and now it's down to only 31 percent. I believe you will agree that something has to give or we, as a nation who must participate in a global economy, are not going to fare well in the future.
To move a little closer to home, I have a good friend by the name of Amanda Moore, who is director of the Bailey Library at Hendrix College here in Conway. Hendrix is one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. When I shared this Washington Post article with her recently, here is her response: "Having worked at four respected higher education institutions over the last 20 years, I do not find anything in this article very surprising. In the last several years, colleges and universities nationwide have spent considerable time coping with the many college freshmen that are ill-prepared for college. The level of academic remediation is horrifying."
"As the standards have gone up in American high schools, the knowledge of students seems to have diminished. Somehow, as a nation, it seems we are 'dumbing down' our students." She adds, "Of course, that's my interpretation, and the phenomenon could also be explained by changing learning styles."
After she shared this with me, I wrote her back to say that I really respected and valued her comments, because she is on the firing line and living it every day.
In a later visit with Amanda she said, "Yes, I'm definitely on the firing line, and many of us nationwide have noticed a steady decline in students' ability to read critically, approach their studies responsibly, and treat other members of the academic community considerately. Many educators believe and have observed that the problem has a lot to do with parenting: many parents nowadays want to befriend their kids rather than guide, mold, and teach/expect standards of appropriate moral and humane conduct. Having kids who are out of control makes the classroom completely impossible Ñ whether it be elementary, high school or college."
Here is that question again that is certainly worth thinking about, "How serious is our nation's literacy problem?" Your answer does matter a lot.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book "Learning, Earning & Giving Back.")