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Learning to read may not have been as critical in another era, in another time, but in todayís society, where we have moved largely from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, it requires a higher level of literacy than we previously experienced. So, when people bemoan that weíre not teaching children to read and that children are doing worse than before, there is some data to indicate that actually the levels of achievement in reading havenít changed that much.
But what has changed is our world and so to take advantage of the goods of our current society, literacy is a must. Without it you are relegated to a level of income and opportunity that isnít fair. The whole purpose of public education is to create more of an equal playing field so that everyone experiences those same opportunities. If we know aprori that itís requisite to become successful you have to be literate in our society then itís incumbent upon us to do a better job of helping children at these beginning stages and through out. So, for a society thereís deep consequences for all of us in not having a literate society.
There is a reading crisis and the reading crisis leads to an education crisis, and also is certainly connected to an economic crisis as you look at job formation. Do we have people coming through the school system who can really perform the job functions that American business has to have? The answer to that now is clearly no. The schools are not producing.
Boulton: Going on a broader, macro level - what does our populationís reading
difficulties cost our nation? Iím not looking for precision, Iím looking for
magnitudes of order. Economically, in terms of our global economic competition
and in terms of the intelligence of our population and what that means about the
security of our nation over the longer view.
Dr. Grover (Russ)
Whitehurst: It is impossible to quantify the cost associated with reading
failure or the advantages that flow to societies whose citizens are highly
literate, who read well and read deeply and widely. It is clear, however,
particularly in the context of a global economy, that increasingly the
competitors of the United States, economic competitors, competitors in terms of
ideas and philosophies, are competing in a way that undermines the ability of
citizens in the United States to perform well based on the types of skills that
involve lifting and pushing and using muscles. They are skills that depend
increasingly on high levels of education. And even within high levels of
education, the effects of global markets are that its only value added by
special types of education, including high levels of literacy, that ultimately
are going to allow us to compete well.
Software jobs that pay sixty
dollars an hour in the United States are now done for six dollars an hour in
India. For our citizens to compete, they have to bring to the software business
a higher level of value. That value comes from the ability to conceptualize
problems, to come up with novel solutions, to be creative, to think about how to
market, speak to the world, speak to citizens of the United States, and all of
those abilities flow from the understanding of a culture and oneself and other
people that depends on reading.
Boulton: So, as we said, reading is profoundly connected to this
meta-linguistic verbal intelligence, and what makes us competitive is this
Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst: Yes, absolutely. Innovative intelligence is a type of verbal intelligence. Verbal intelligence flows, depends on, and has a foundation in reading.
Timothy Shanahan: One aspect of this that I had personal experience with was one
of the newspapers asked me to analyze the votes in the 2000 Florida election.
Obviously, media attention was directed
to the hanging chads and the failure of the machines to record peopleís votes.
The thing that is interesting is that in Florida there are probably more
counties that are using paper ballots than machine ballots. One of the
newspapers said letís look at the paper ballots and see how we did there.
Florida lost even more votes with paper ballots than machine ballots, and they
lost these votes primarily because people couldnít make sense of the
lost lots of votes because many citizens couldnít do the simple reading tasks
on the ballot. They would spoil their vote by voting multiple times for
different candidates. Even this basic franchise of whether you get to cast a
vote is connected to literacy. Youíre less likely to go and try to vote,
but if you do try, youíre more likely to fail and your vote will be lost.
Weíre almost fifty years beyond the Supreme Court saying there wouldnít be
any kind of a literacy bar to vote in this country.
Boulton: Of course thereís going
to be. Even if you get around the instrumental simple part of it, youíve got
the deeper issue of whether somebody is a competent participant.
Timothy Shanahan: Yes. In fact, one
interesting analysis done with adults who are low in literacy is that low
literacy individuals are less likely to read a newspaper than a high literate
person. But, of course, these folks could still participate by getting
information from television and have radio. Thereís absolutely no reason why a
low literacy person wouldnít be able to access a lot of the information that
is available over those media.
it turns out that lack of literacy has an isolating effect. What
happens is low literacy people are less likely to watch informational shows on
television, theyíre less likely to watch news, for example, than other kinds
Boulton: How can they navigate?
Dr. Timothy Shanahan: Exactly. They just donít pay attention to stuff like that which means, they miss out on information about the candidates and elections and so on, but they also miss out on the large amount of health information that is on television news and so on. They donít find out about the free pap smears down at the clinic. They donít find out about the new statistics on smoking. They donít find out about how to take care of their children better. And so their kids are at greater risk in all kinds of ways and they themselves are at greater risk.
Boulton: We were interviewing Lesley Morrow, the President of the IRA, and she
made a statement which flabbergasted me. She said this was a fact: that there
are some states that determine how many prison cells to build based on
Dr. Grover (Russ)
Whitehurst: Yes. Again, the predictability of reading for life success is so
strong, that if you look at the proportion of middle schoolers who are not at
the basic level, who are really behind in reading, it is a very strong predictor
of problems with the law and the need for jails down the line.
Literacy for societies,
literacy for states, literacy for individuals is a powerful determinate of
success. The opposite of success is failure and clearly, being in jail is a sign
People who donít read well have trouble earning a living. It becomes attractive to, in some cases the only alternative in terms of gaining funds, to violate the law and steal, to do things that get you in trouble. Few options in some cases other than to pursue that life. Of course reading opens doors.
know that the earning potential of a college graduate is over twice that of a
high school graduate - connected to reading ability. We know that students who
finish high school and have only a high school degree, but get the high school
degree as a regular degree rather than an equivalency degree, earn at
substantially higher levels. So again, thatís connected often with reading:
reading success and reading failure.
itís hard to find a problem thatís not connected to reading.
Certainly under employment and
employment at low levels of wages is very frequently a reading problem.
(Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08),
Institute of Education Sciences,
U.S. Department of
Education. Source: COTC Interview:
Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview: http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/whitehurst.htm#HundredsofBillions
Shanahan: It is interesting how
politicized all the arguments get and how territorial people get on all of these
things. I honestly believe that comes from knowing parts of it and not having
the overall picture of it. I canít imagine where else it would come from.
Itís one of these deals where we can quibble about all of these things. This is one where my notion is full speed ahead on all fronts. This isnít a case of well, if you do that then we can do this. This is not that kind of a situation. We have a very big problem. These kids have a very big problem. Both on a societal level and an individual level and weíve got to find a way to solve it. My kids can read at a very high level and theyíre going to be living in society and trying to function with a bunch of folks that canít do it and thatís going to lower the quality of their lives.
Boulton: Yeah, theyíre going to
pay for it.
Dr. Timothy Shanahan: Theyíll pay for it in terms of whatever economic costs there are for social programs, but theyíre also going to pay for it in terms of political divides that exist. They pay for it in terms of lost opportunities that those low in literacy could have contributed. They lose in all kinds of ways. This is such a big problem. We really need to not be territorial about our solutions.