Allow me to repeat myself, this time in English instead of Croatian: This is what it’s like to help your kid do his homework or read the instructions on prescription medicine if you are one of the estimated 1 million Alabama adults who is functionally illiterate. (Hat tip to Google Translate.)
This is a serious problem for Alabama, one that anti-illiteracy advocate Bruce K. Berger calls “obscene.”
So, our leaders in Montgomery must be up nights pacing the floor, right? Well, not so much.
It seems something always takes precedence over fighting this problem that has implications for our economic development, crime rates, employment picture and quality of life. It’s always something ... well, something other than directly addressing a problem that affects between 1-in-4 and 1-in-6 Alabama residents who have problems reading. (By comparison, the number of illegal immigrants is estimated to be approximately 1-in-40 Alabama residents.)
Dr. Berger, an advertising and public relations professor at the University of Alabama, is passionate about fighting illiteracy in the state. In his 2012 book In Our Dreams We Read, Berger wrote, “There’s room for you to work with another brother or sister, an adult or child, who wants to learn to read to unlock the mysteries and opportunities of words and to create a brighter and more fulfilling tomorrow.”
He is at the forefront of a major effort in West Alabama to fight functional illiteracy. The Literacy Council of West Alabama links functionally illiterate adults with programs that teach them to read in Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties. Based on the Tuscaloosa campus, Literacy is the Edge, another project led by Berger, recruits UA students to volunteer time teaching someone to read.
When we spoke by telephone Thursday afternoon, I asked Berger about the roots of Alabama’s problem and where we should attack it. The source, he said, is the state’s public schools. Too many are passing along students before they’ve mastered reading. In other words, to reduce the population of functionally illiterate adults, we’ve got to stop producing them in our schools.
Berger’s book cites sources that report “40 percent of Alabama’s fourth-graders are unable to read at grade level, and 40 percent of fourth-graders don’t graduate from high school.”
Countless times I’ve heard Gov. Robert Bentley and Gov. Bob Riley brag that industries that come to Alabama are always impressed by the hard workers they find here. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear them brag about the brainpower of our workforce? And someday that 40 percent of fourth-graders who struggle to read and face the real possibility of leaving school without a diploma will be a part of that workforce.
Berger called illiteracy our state’s “insidious and almost invisible problem.” People who have a hard time reading don’t take to the streets demanding the state do something. Who should be marching and demanding that Alabama lower its awful illiteracy rate, I wondered? Oh, only everyone who wants to see Alabama thrive.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at: @EditorBobDavis.