Illiterate in America

According to a federal literacy study,  one in seven U.S. adults can’t read well enough to understand a newspaper article, follow instructions for medications or decipher a utility bill, reports USA Today.

“They really cannot read … paragraphs (or) sentences that are connected,” says Sheida White, a researcher at the U.S. Education Department.

Slate offers suggestions for parents to help your child learn to read. None of it works for parents who can’t read well, but I suppose they’re not reading Slate.

Update: Teaching content is teaching reading, says Dan Willingham on a new video (with annoying background music). Comprehension requires background knowledge.

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  1. There are many free/inexpensive resources to aid in reading right on the internet, which most people have access to one way or another. Some of my favorite are:

  2. It would be useful to know how many of these functional illiterates are native English speakers vs. non-native speakers. Also, I would like to know what percentage of the non-native speakers are also functionally illiterate in their native tongue.

  3. ucladavid says:

    It would also be useful to ask how many of these are high school graduates.

  4. Those websites are useful, however you need to be literate enough to use a computer to be able to access them.

  5. I love how illiterate now = poor reader, as opposed to nonreader. Maybe if the utility bills were written in standard English, as opposed to government-issued gobbldegook, even poor readers could figure them out.

  6. 1 in 7 Americans also has an IQ under 85.

  7. I was going to point out something like Myrtle’s remark.

    I have special education teachers in my family, and I’ve sat in on some of these classes. The children and adults they taught had difficulty following logical flow in statements that are spoken, forget about trying to read such things.

    Some students could be taught very basic reading skills, but the cognitive level wasn’t there to be able to read something like a news story. The whole cause-effect chain was difficult for them to understand. The wet book example given by Prof. Willingham would totally go over their heads…. and there’s not much you can do to teach that. My grandmother, aunt, and uncle did try, but they knew that their chances of success were low.

    This is why I’m less than convinced about Cuba’s 99% literacy rate…. unless they’re killing off all the mentally disabled (or just not counting them).

  8. I believe the standard for literacy is 3rd grade reading level. You can teach about anybody to read that well. They may not be able to comprehend complex texts — but they can probably read U.S.A. Today vs. The New York Times. I’ve taught many, many kids with IQ’s lower than 85 and they can get along as long as the material is fairly basic.

    That said, I spend a lot of time working on questioning techniques, comprhension strategies, etc. If they don’t keep working on those things after they graduate (ie. quit reading altogether because it is hard work), I’m sure reading levels fade back.

  9. There are five literacy levels; illiteracy is usually defined as being in the bottom two levels. The last study I read had about 30% of Americans in the lowest two levels.

    At the bottom level, you can’t even fill out a job application.

    Literacy Volunteers of America, now merged with Laubach to form ProLiteracy America, is an excellent program for teaching adult literacy. If you want to get involved with the problem of adult literacy, either donate money or time to your local literacy volunteer organization.