America and Her Low Literacy Rates

Literacy rates. In 2017 I feel like we shouldn’t even be discussing literacy rates in America. With the amount of wealth, opportunity, resources, and knowledgeable people in America, how is it that we are still discussing the percentage of people in the country who reach a minimum standard for reading?

Being able to read is such an important tool in a person’s life. Having it impacts almost every single aspect of how you do life. From getting a job to ordering at a restaurant, reading is important.

Knowing this, here are some facts I found particularly disturbing:

  • 32 million American adults scored at the lowest level of literacy
  • 19% of people who graduate from high school can’t read
  • 60% of American households do not buy a single book in a year
  • 70% of people in prison are illiterate

(Literacy Project Foundation, Statistic Brain)


Obviously literacy is still a huge issue in America, and it starts in kindergarten and is compounded throughout the school years. It can begin with a simple bad experience in kindergarten or not fully grasping the concept, but as students progress throughout school reading is no longer a focus.

I see this as increasingly becoming a problem rather than decreasing if America doesn’t prioritize education and focus on reading in particular. With the influx of ever-changing technology. Not only are kids no longer enjoying reading their favorite book as an afterschool activity, but they can now rely on technology to make it harder for teachers and caregivers to assess their level of literacy.

From Sparknotes to online classes, I think there are many barriers to determining how well children can read. This is only exacerbated by the teachers who overlook reading deficiencies in order to give students good grades for athletic reasons. While this is not the majority of teachers, and has been more heavily regulated recently, I think this definitely still contributes to America’s literacy struggles.

In this article on Forbes, educator James Crotty addresses this topic, although not explicitly literacy rates. He does discuss the issues with pushing kids to graduate from high school at all costs. While it should be the goal of every educator and parent to propel children through grade school, the point is not a piece of paper, it is the skills they gain during those years that set them up for success. America as a society loses sight of this sometimes, I think, and this is why we see low literacy rates even among high school graduates. It is a very short-term, band-aid solution to “pass” a child, or give them a good grade when it is obvious they are struggling. Even if it seems unfair or mean to fail a child, if they do not know the material like they should, actions need to be taken to give them the help they need so they can progress with the appropriate skills and knowledge.
This is a very roundabout way of saying low literacy rates in America can be attributed to a host of causes, but it is abysmal and needs direct and immediate attention. We are not going to progress as a society until everyone is able to have the basic skills needed to survive and pursue the “American Dream”.

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