August 10, 2010

Literacy Across the Lifespan

No Former Child Left Behind

Adult education doesn’t get attention or funding the way children’s literacy programs do. Why? Kids are full of potential, quick learners, and photogenic. No sane politician hits the campaign trail to declare “Children are not our future!” Nobody blames kids for their inability to read. It’s wise to recognize the importance of children’s literacy and devote resources to raising a new generation of readers, but no comparable investment is made in the parents of these children. When parents can’t read to their kids at home, the kids have a harder time reading in school. Adult basic literacy programs are left to languish, despite the fact that the biggest influence on a child’s literacy is the literacy level of the parent.

Untapped Potential

Children are the future, but they’re not today’s workforce. Adult Basic Literacy, English as a Second Language, and other adult education classes serve an urgent purpose. Right now, one in five people (over age 16) in Travis county can not read or write well enough to fill out a job application. Imagine everybody in Austin getting together, from the East, West, North, and South—like if everyone here could actually afford to go to ACL Fest. It’d be a great party. Now visualize Austin’s usual suspects: a UT student, a tech yuppie, a SoCo hippie, you, your neighbor, and imagine counting off each person: “1, 2, 3, 4, too low-literate to be employed.” Do this at ACL in September and people will probably tell you how depressing you are. Tell them that’s how depressing illiteracy is.

If you can read this, you have a literacy problem...

The general attitude toward adult education is indifference. Grown-ups can fend for themselves. They got by this long. It’s true most adults can fend for themselves, and adult education students tend to be creative and adaptable. They’ve survived with low literacy despite how most of the world’s demands come in written form: Rent Due by the First of the Month, Slow Down Construction Ahead, Take One Every Three Hours While Symptoms Persist. Illiteracy is a deeply personal problem. But when too many of our neighbors can’t pay their bills, don’t know there are hazardous conditions on the road, or wind up in the ER because of low health literacy, it eventually affects the entire community. The illiteracy problem spills over from personal to public.

Literacy Across the Lifespan

To truly develop our community’s potential, we need literacy across the lifespan. Literacy programs are underfunded and overwhelmed, especially adult education programs. That’s why every donation of money, supplies, or time has a huge impact. The same way illiteracy affects the quality of life of everyone in our community, your time or treasure donated to a literacy program makes this a better place to live for all of us. And if you’re an advocate for literacy, remember education isn’t just for kids.

If you want to volunteer with kids, check out awesome programs like Bookspring, Heart House, or the Austin Batcave. If you think kids are annoying or would just rather help an adult education program, check out Lifeworks, Community Action, or Austin Learning Academy. For more ideas, call 512-320-4505.


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