There really are many forms of illiteracy in this country, and all forms are just as debilitating in their own ways. I just listened to a clip from today’s NPR All Things Considered. It was about the increased interest people have shown in literacy programs, this interest brought on by the recession and the large job losses of the past year, especially in manufacturing. These are the illiterate, the ones who require courses in basic reading well into adulthood, that we think of when we hear that word; they are the ones who cannot read beyond a very basic level; they are the drop outs and others who fall through the cracks (although the numbers are so large you could almost think of them as holes more so than cracks at this point.) It’s sad to think that we still have a literacy problem in this country, and that so many can get to high school still unable to read at a level high enough to read job applications or letters from the bank or the newspaper.
The other form of illiteracy is the one we don’t think as much about but can have its own consequences. This is a chosen form of illiteracy (as crazy as that might sound to some.) In my eyes, it’s just as troublesome. These are the people who can read, but choose not to. I’m not saying they can’t read job applications, because they can. But for whatever reason picking up a book, or even a periodical, even reading online sometimes, is something they would never choose to do. They get by with whatever they are required to read because of their line of work (e-mails, reports, etc.) and the rest doesn’t even exist for them. It’s true, you could say these at least still CAN read. The really “illiterate” are worse off in many ways. But are they? They have classes they can take…and if you listened to NPR you would have heard how eager they are to learn how to read when they get that opportunity, when they realize how held back they are by not being able to read.
But what class can someone take to once again realize the value of reading? What class can someone take that would allow them to see reading the way the truly illiterate do, as a privilege or a gift? There is no class for that.
In my dream world, or my best of all possible worlds, illiteracy wouldn’t exist in either of those forms.
Now, you can argue, there is even a third form of illiteracy that is developing: people who cannot or do not know how to interact or navigate online. If it is true that we are heading in the direction in which job networks, social networks, business networks, political networks are going to take place as much, if not more, in the online square as they do in the physical or community square than what happens to the people who cannot navigate there?