Reading red alert

The statistics quoted by reading advocacy organization Reach Out and Read are startling: 44 million adult Americans aren’t literate enough to read a bedtime story to their kids. More than four out of 10 adults don’t read even one book a year. Six out of 10 families don’t buy a book in a year.

If education is the framework for building happy and productive lives for children then these statistics should sound the alarm about foundation underpinning that framework. Literacy isn’t the ability to quote Shakespeare or analyze the structure of a novel: It is the key that fits into the lock barring or admitting young learners from entering the world of education and opportunity.

Lynn and surrounding communities are fortunate to host adult literacy and reading enhancement programs for children. Pathways, Inc., formerly Operation Bootstrap, has a decades-long track record of introducing adults to the world of reading and dozens of dedicated teachers go the extra mile to help school children strengthen reading skills.

Pathways’ mission is partly focused on giving adults literacy skills so that they can help their children read. The organization also helps adults learn English as a second language to improve their employability and, in turn, help their children learn English.

This mission emphasizes how reading helps families by making reading a focus of family activities and by helping to make education an attainable goal. Plenty of Pathways clients are hard-working adults juggling two jobs and raising their children. Their biggest obstacles are income and inadequate educations that left them with poor or negligible reading skills.

Reach Out and Read is worried about receiving sufficient state tax dollars to continue expanding literacy efforts. Other literacy groups are presumably facing similar cuts or the prospect of funding reductions.

Intelligent state legislators know ignorance is much more expensive than the cost of any single literacy program. By extension, the cost of illiterate adults is exponentially even more expensive with lack of reading skills blocking employees from advancing in careers and preventing parents from helping their children succeed and prosper in the classroom.

Every dime and tax dollar invested in literacy programs represents money that doesn’t have to be spent on remedial programs or economic productivity lost because workers are trapped in low-paying jobs.

There are powerful programs that can be harnessed to boost literacy among adults including programs like Reach Out and Read and resources available in school systems. Municipalities must ensure libraries receive sufficient money to become learning centers for adults who can take advantage of evening library hours and the online as well as printed resources available in every community in Massachusetts and shared library to library.

The price of illiteracy is too high to ignore and the world of opportunity to be found in the pages of books must be opened to adults who need to sharpen their reading skills. The alternative is stagnant minds and a stagnant society.

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