One of the issues explored by citizens in the "What Will it Take?" survey (PDF) was adult literacy. Defined in its most basic form as the ability to read and write, literacy is the building block to learning. We know, however, that far too many Americans have these basic skills.
According to a report released from the National Center for Education Statistics in December 2005, there was little change between 1992 and 2003 in "adults' ability to read and understand sentences and paragraphs or to understand documents such as job applications." It is hard to gauge how many people we are really talking about here from the reports and statistics. We are bound up in percentages up and down on certain aspects but overall estimates are few and far between. From a range of sources it appears that the numbers of people below basic literacy skills range from 30 million to 44 million. At either end, the numbers are shockingly high.
Fortunately communities are taking up this important cause and volunteers are leading the charge in many communities. We particularly want to salute the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas based in Austin. With support from the Austin American Statesman and other partners, the coalition has been able to bring the issue to the public's attention through its annual Great Grown-up Spelling Bee for Literacy. Part fundraiser, part awareness, and lots of fun, the Bee just held in early April brought together 500 adults (some in bee costumes!) to spell words not normally used in everyday conversation. The winners this year—Church Ladies—won the trophy on "parterre." With 225,000 central Texans not able to read well enough to qualify for a minimum wage job, the volunteers have a mission. We encourage you to learn more about literacy in your community and how you can get involved.