All citizens are damaged by illiteracy
by Rochelle Riley, Detroit Free Press, September 29, 2002
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Here's what some people in Detroit can and cannot do.
They can usually sign their names, but cannot locate their
eligibility from a table of employee benefits.
They can usually identify a country in a short article, but
cannot locate an intersection on a street map.
They can locate the expiration date on a driver's license, but
cannot enter background information on a Social Security card
Those things they can't do are impossible because they cannot
read or only at the lowest level of ability.
I've been writing about this problem for more than a year now,
since July 2001, and two things are true:
Most of the 47 percent of Detroit residents 16 and over who
can't read CAN learn. And most adults who can read don't
understand that illiteracy is a problem that affects us all.
Is your interest only in economics? Consider the economic
impact of nearly half of a city's adult residents reading at
the lowest basic level;
unable to understand government so they don't vote;
unable to be trained for the jobs that economic development
officials want new companies to bring here;
unable to understand school work so they can't help with
unable to process environmental concerns so they can't support
efforts to protect our natural resources.
Is your interest only in making sure that young kids can read?
Consider that thousands of Detroit schoolchildren arrive at
school unable to read and write. Teachers load them with
lessons and send them home to practice with parents who cannot
read their child's materials.
The assessment that revealed metro Detroit's problems with
literacy revealed a nation's problem. The National Adult
Literacy Survey showed that 21 percent to 23 percent -- or 40
million to 44 million of America's 191 million adults 16 and
older were at the lowest literacy level.
Detroit's biggest problem with illiteracy is admitting that
such a basic problem is at the root of nearly every other
single problem that the city has, economic, educational and
Now consider the fact that it isn't just Detroit's problem.
Double-digit illiteracy rates plague Oakland and Macomb
counties. And nearly one of five adults across the state
So folks, the secret is out and the Metro Detroit Reads
campaign to promote adult reading has begun. I'm thankful for
the support it received, thus far.
Five area literacy centers, joined by the Detroit Free Press,
and partners that include the Detroit Pistons, DaimlerChrysler,
SBC Ameritech and several elected officials, are making a
In just a month, the centers have signed up nearly 200 new
tutors, one-fifth of the campaign's goal. More than 100 people
have sought help to learn to read.
Now the job is convincing others.
It isn't easy.
It requires proud people with secrets to seek help.
If you know one of those people, tell them there's a whole
world waiting for them. For help or to volunteer, call
866-310-READ, or go to the literacy booth at the Free Press's
Yak Book Fair, 1-4 p.m. today at the Buell Management Building
at Lawrence Tech University, 21000 W. 10 Mile Road,